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Researchers enlist robots in autism therapy

7:34 AM, Apr 4, 2011   |    comments
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A state-of-the-art robot may help treat autism.

It's called a Nao robot and it's helping autistic children learn how to communicate.

University of Notre Dame assistant professor of psychology Dr. Joshua Diehl recently visited the Barber National Institute in Erie, Pennsylvania to discuss the new technique.

"What we really need to know is what sort of treatments are going to work. What are the best treatments and who will they work for," said Diehl.

He says the robots are working because autistic children seem to be more responsive to feedback from technology than humans.

By pairing up the talking robots with the children and letting them interact, they're seeing a great response.

"We're really excited because it's not just communication with the robot that's improving, we're also seeing some improvements in interactions with others and with their therapists," said Diehl.

Members of the audience got to put one of the robots, named Kelly, to the test, through Skype.

Now the technology could soon be on the way to the Barber National Institute.

They're currently applying for federal and private grants to bring some of the robots to the school to help bridge the communication gap with their autistic students.

"This is somewhat of a culmination of our continued quest to continue to be right at the true cutting edge and doing the very best that we can to help our children with autism," said Dr. Maureen Barber-Carey, the executive vice president of the institute.

They're hoping a robot like Kelly, will be in their classrooms sometime after this summer.

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