Robot Developed to Assist in Diagnosing Autism in Children

The robot, Rene, is used to befriend autistic children as a solution to help develop their everyday life skills.


In a recent initiative, The University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences and its Faculty of Electronics and Computer Sciences, have joined together with a special objective of using robots to improve the diagnosis and assessment of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The robot, named Rene, is used to befriend autistic children as a solution to help develop their everyday life skills.

Autism is a genetic disorder often left undiagnosed until around 5-10 years of age after which the critical years for early intervention have already passed. In the U.S. early intervention assessments and diagnoses begin as young as 2 years of age. Australia has been pioneering intervention and diagnosis starting as young as 18 months when children should reach certain developmental milestones. Until now this process has been highly complex and subjective. These robots are meant to assist in the process, not replace clinicians.

This new robot technology is possibly an ideal solution and here is why.

A robot is constant and creates a calm atmosphere for autistic children, who are known to have issues with change and transitions between activities and tasks. No matter how many times a child has a meltdown a robot will not confuse the child with its own emotions, change the way it interacts with and/or reacts to a child.

A robot will not:

  • Judge
  • Become emotive and have hurt feelings
  • Expect the child to talk
  • Bully

A robot will:

  • Help to develop interaction skills
  • Provide as little or as much sensory stimulation as possible
  • Provide an interesting new stimulus to capture their attention

“Children with attention-deficit issues, who have trouble making eye contact, react relatively well to the robot,” says researcher Maja Cepanec. “They watch it and they are excited about it. So far, our experiences have been relatively positive.”

“The robot is equipped with a camera, microphones, speakers, and it can record things we might miss,” says Cepanec. “It can code a child’s vocalizations, his or her closeness to the parent, how many times the child initiates communication, how much eye contact the child makes, and so on.”

A robot is truly objective and engineered to detect things the human perceptions may have trouble detecting. It’s a great new use of technological advances for the advancement of correct autism diagnoses.

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