A.I. robots help children with ASD

Added On July 1, 2016

Recently, a research team has employed humanoid robots NAO to enhance the gestural communication skills of autistic children. Eight daily gestures are taught to children to help them express themselves correctly instead of hurting themselves frustratedly. 

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Children with autism spectrum disorder(ASD) are characterized by impairments in communication and social interaction. Led by So Wing-Chee, Assistant Professor of Department of Education Psychology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong is a pioneer in Hong Kong in promoting the gestural communication skills of autistic children. 
The eight gestures robots teach are angry, annoyed, dizzy, scared, hot, hungry, noisy and smelly. 
Prior to NAO, Mr. So led a research to prove the effectiveness of online robot animation in promoting gesture comprehension and production.
SOUNDBITE1: SO WING-CHEE, Assistant Professor, Department of Education Psychology(Cantonese) 
"Why autistic children take more interests in robots than human ? In fact, the reason is human's complicated facial expression. When autistic children see facial expression, they will overstate every facial expression's meaning. For instance, now my mouth is moving, in fact, it is because my nerve and muscle are moving. But it causes great pressure to them. However, robot only has two eyes, ears and one mouth, which is simple and direct for the children. "
Keung Hei Man, Student of Hong Kong Hong Chi Morninghill School, showed how to learn gestures through communicating with robots. 
SOUNDBITE2: KEUNG HEI MAN, Student, Hong Chi Morninghill School (Cantonese) 
"Some primary school students who just entered a higher school from kindergarten seem to adapt to environment difficultly. Therefore, when robots teach us to use gestures, we learn to express our thoughts with body language."
SOUNDBITE 3: Parent of Keung Hei Man 
"Before learning gestures, he often misunderstand what we have talked about. However, after learning from (Assistant) Professor So and school, now with gestures, he knows what we talk about instead of being annoyed of misunderstanding."
However, experts also said that children show "special preference" to robots, but it does not mean that robots can replace teachers. 
SOUNDBITE 4: DANIEL FOK, Principal, Hong Chi Morninghill School (Cantonese) 
"Robot is both a tool and a method that requires a certain level of regulations and dedication, in order to practice continuously. I believe that robot is the best initial way to help autistic children learn to express themselves. On the other hand, in my personal opinion, autistic children are in fact normal people who need to communicate with others superficially and emotionally. This is why every teacher or professional who gets in touch with them, will need to dedicate his/her full intentions to truly engage with the children. A committed teacher is irreplaceable by my own years of educational experience."
Artificial intelligence generally penetrates into all walks of life. The technology develops rapidly and becomes more and more advanced. 
Experts believed that this program can be widely used in clinical settings, special schools and even mainstream schools.