The Power of Memes: The Pepper Robot as a Communicative Aid for Autistic Children - Introductionby@memeology
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The Power of Memes: The Pepper Robot as a Communicative Aid for Autistic Children - Introduction

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This paper explores the efficacy of robot-assisted therapy in promoting social and communication skills in autistic children, based on qualitative analysis.
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This paper is available on arxiv under CC 4.0 license.


(1) Linda Pigureddu, University of Turin, Italy, [email protected];

(2) Cristina Gena, Dept. of Computer Science, University of Turin, Italy, [email protected].


The Project


Conclusion and References

This article describes the preliminary qualitative results of a therapeutic laboratory involving the Pepper robot, as a facilitator, to promote autonomy and functional acquisition in autistic children with low support needs (level 1 support). The lab, designed and led by a multidisciplinary team, involved 4 children, aged 11 to 13 years, and was organized in weekly meetings for the duration of four months. The following is the result of an in-depth qualitative evaluation of the interactions that took place between the children and the Pepper robot, with the aim of analyzing their effectiveness for the purpose of promoting the development of social and communication skills in the participants. The observations and analyses conducted during the interactions provided valuable insights into the dialogue and communication style employed and paved the way for possible strategies to make the robot more empathetic and engaging for autistic children.

Keywords: autism, robotics, field studies


Autism Spectrum Disorders take their name from the conception of the autistic condition as a heterogeneous spectrum, which can manifest in countless different ways. In the most recent edition of the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013 [1]), autism spectrum disorder is categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder that involves features that impact the individual's social and communication skills. Although diagnostic manuals have moved beyond the former pathologizing view of autism, accepting that it is only a feature of mental functioning and not a mental illness[2], they recognize different levels of support for it (where level 1 is the lowest level of support, and level 3 is the highest level of support needed) that reflect the individual's autonomy in society and any co-occurrences with physical, psychiatric, and psychological impairments [3]. Recent studies on robot-assisted therapies for autism has produced very satisfactory results on the side of implementing social behaviors, spontaneous initialization of dialogue and management of stereotypies, often superior than traditional therapies [4]–[10]. This therapeutic success is credited to the special affinity that autistic children develop with the robotic partner, as it fulfills the needs for repetitiveness, stability and control of the environment typical in autistic minds, allowing the child to feel more comfortable in the laboratory setting and thus be more participatory during therapeutic activities [4]–[10]. Finally, it is underlined that for the children participating in the kind of projects it is clear that the robots cannot feel prejudiced toward them and are, as a result, more reassuring partners to them, which they can feel free to express themselves with without being limited by the unselfconscious dynamics of masking[1] [13]. This makes their use in the role of mediator within therapeutic settings particularly useful, as it encourages the dynamics of pairing allowing children to project their positive feelings toward the automaton upon the adults in charge associated with the robot, promoting social initiative and the success of plans aimed at the development of communication skills [14].

This paper describes preliminary qualitative results from a therapeutic laboratory focused on the use of the robot Pepper to promote autonomy and functional acquisition in autistic children with low support needs (level 1 support). The analysis presented focuses primarily on the interactions and dialogues that occurred between the children and the robot, providing an in-depth view of the communicative dynamics within the laboratory setting. In addition, information is provided on the empirical results that emerged during the workshop phases, based on a qualitative analysis of the audiovisual material produced during the workshop. It is important to note that all workshop meetings were recorded, and evaluations were made based on these recordings.

[1] Often also referred to as "camouflaging," in reference to ASD it is the ability of the autistic person to compensate for the deficits by hiding or limiting stereotypies (repetitive movements), internalizing discomforts related to sensory overloads, withholding meltdowns, i.e., explosive reactions and energetic manifestations resulting from uncomfortable situations that have become unbearable ([11]) and emulating neurotypical behaviors[12].