Robots and the Arts Helping Autistic Individuals

One in 152 children will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A common obstacle these children will need to overcome are problems in social communication and interaction. For example, patients with autism may prefer to be alone or play with objects of interest when placed in social situations, avoiding eye contact or verbal communication.

Early intervention can help improve a child’s social skills, and robotic and art therapies are becoming more prevalent treatment options. A study published in the December issue of The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, a trusted journal in the medical field because of its reputation for providing evidenced-based articles, showed that interactions between children on the autism spectrum and robots helped improve social skills. In the study, the robot served as a “friendly playmate” and interacted with children on several levels, such as teaching, modeling and practicing a skill to provide feedback on performance. In one part of the study, a person operated the behavior of a Wizard of Oz style robot for a child with autism. The operator manually controlled the robot in a way that was sensitive to the child and observed his/her reactions.

Though robot-based intervention is a new therapy technique that has yet to be widely integrated, the idea of incorporating new ways to impact communicative and non-verbal deficits in those with ASD is a timeless approach.

Art therapy is also a bit new to the medical field—having been introduced a couple decades ago. Modes like painting, building things with objects such as paper mache, can help focus ASD patients into more stress relieving and enjoyable areas of interest. Patients with ASD can have issues processing sensory information and a medium like art can help direct their sensory capabilities into something more meaningful and therapeutic. Oftentimes, those with ASD find that the field of art or building can even turn into a professional venture.

Arts-based programs are some of the first things to get cut when budgets get tight—and it may only get worse under the Trump administration. Later this week, Pulse explores a plan that could bankrupt us all.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.