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IMFAR: Robot Co-Therapist May Be Beneficial in ASD

And child communication can be improved with augmentative alternative communication devices

THURSDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a robot co-therapist may improve targeted behaviors; and communication can be enhanced with augmentative alternative communication (AAC) devices, according to two studies presented at the annual International Meeting for Autism Research, held from May 2 to 4 in Donostia/San Sebastián, Spain.

Joshua J. Diehl, Ph.D., from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and colleagues examined the use of robots as co-therapists for 19 children (aged 6 to 13 years) with ASD. Participants completed 12 sessions of therapy, six with a human therapist and robot co-therapist and six only with a human therapist. The researchers found that from baseline to post-test there was an increase in the frequency of parent-recorded targeted behaviors in the participants' natural environment. Greater improvement in targeted behaviors was noted for many participants during sessions involving the robot, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Connie Kasari, Ph.D., from the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues examined the effect of an adaptive intervention beginning with joint-attention and engagement with enhanced milieu training (JAE/EMT) together with AAC devices in a group of sixty children (average age, 6.33 years) with autism and ASD with an average of 16.62 unique words at baseline. The researchers found that adaptive interventions beginning with JAE/EMT + AAC had a significantly larger total number and percent of spontaneous communicative utterances at mid-point, compared to adaptive interventions beginning with JAE/EMT alone. This effect persisted through the end of treatment.

"Future research should examine how AAC support can be integrated into homes and schools to further improve communicative outcomes for these children," Kasari and colleagues write.

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