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O1-Literature research amd country needs mapping-conclusion

The scientific literature presents an increasing number of studies conducted in recent years that explore the use of robots in the education and therapy of children with ASD.

Over the years, many deferent types of robots have been used for these purposes, e.g. creature/cartoon like robots, mobile robots, animal-like robots and humanoid robots. Although the robotic platforms vary in terms of their appearance and behavior, they have been shown to evoke pro-social behaviors in many children with ASD, help developing skills to assist in communication and social interaction. Several surveys show that the use of humanoid robots as intervention tools for children with autism have found that social robots act as behavior eliciting agents for imitation, eye-gaze, joint attention, turn-taking, self-initiation, tactile interaction, emotion recognition, vocalization and language etc all of which may promote sensory, motor, cognitive emotional and social development.

Another aspect of O1 was to conduct a survey among professionals in the different countries which are presented in the SMART project, who are working with children and young adults with various developmental impairments to find out experts´ experiences and attitudes towards using modern technology in their work. Results revealed a wide differences in the training received by professionals in the different countries. It span from 23% to 94% of professionals, who participated in educational courses or congresses related to AAC. However, this gap is reduced in terms of actual usage of some methods of AAC by professionals in their work. It was reported that, from 42% to 86% of professionals in these countries respectively, are using methods of AAC daily or frequently. The picture is somewhat different with regards to the usage of robots by professional in their practice. In all four countries the current use of robots as a tool is either none-existent or negligible (in two countries no one used robots in their work, and in two countries only one of the professionals who participated in the survey did). Also, in all four countries, only a third of professionals express the desire to use robots in their future work, mainly due to lack of knowledge, and lack of resources. Survey of parents revealed that nearly all parents (over 90%) had their initial concern about their child’s development when the child was between the ages 0-3, but on average only half of the children been diagnosed before the age of 3. Although with some small variation in their extend, the primary challenges common to all parents in caring for their children are the children’s communication skills, social interaction skills and stereotyped and repetitive behavior.

On average 65% of parent report financial difficulties in caring for their children having to pay by themselves substantial part of the cost of treatment. A lot of the parents face financial challenges also because they had to cut down their work hours or stop working completely. Majority of parents will look for information via the internet or parents groups etc. Parents are frustrated by national services and support they try to get to their children, and on average, half of the parents reporting the support they get is via parents support group etc.

Literature research amd country needs mapping-conclusion

 

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O2-Development, implementation and analysis of the evalution questionnaires-conclusion

Our study had some limitations like small sample of participants, no control group and heterogeneous sample of children with autism. The reason for that was that this project was meant to be a pilot study and proof of concept.

We cannot generalize our findings to all children with autism, but we can observe a trend, that the use of Kaspar is associated with better functioning of those children in different domains. In near future, these results need to be confirmed in a larger group of participants and with an introduction of a control group. The results show that using the Kaspar in therapy process led to improvement in almost all developmental domains: Communication functions and means; Gaze shift & eye contact; Turn taking; Imitation; Language; Play; Attention; Daily life skills. Developmental domains where no progress has been made are Vocalization and speech, Cause and effect, and Coping skills. As of the usefulness of the Kaspar app, it is important to emphasize that not all parents actually used the app in line with the therapists’ instructions, and therefore the validity of the results is questionable. As their reasons for not using the Kaspar app much, parents stated that it was either them who did not see the point or that their children refused to work with the app (five children refused to use the app). Therefore, around one half of parents reported that the app met their needs and the needs of their children. Up to 50 percent of parents were not sure whether the app met their needs and the needs of their children. Most parents thought that the application was user friendly for them as well as for their children. They found it simple, clear, fun, and they thought that the visual organization of information and video quality were good and the system speed satisfactory. Despite all of the above benefits of the application, parents’ responses considering the improvement of their children’s behavior and functioning due to the use of the application were very heterogeneous. When therapists who performed Kaspar therapies were asked to evaluate the usefulness and simplicity of Kaspar and the application (N=5 therapists), they reported that the use of Kaspar in the therapy sessions met the needs of the children. They also found that using Kaspar was easy to learn, and finally, therapists would recommend the use of Kaspar to their colleagues. Regarding the app design, participants rated the feature with high values and they described it as useful. In the open-ended questions, participants expressed that using Kaspar helped them to support attention directing and language development, that it could be helpful in improving imitation skills, and that some children responded better to Kaspar than to other therapy methods and tools.

Despite all the advantages of using Kaspar, the professionals emphasized that Kaspar was only a facilitator and motivator in the therapy process, and that they retained their primary role in therapy. All professionals consider the Smart concept useful and emphasize that the high-tech tools arouse children’s interest and motivation and that they find them useful in addition to the traditional tools. Regarding the app, they had suggestions to implement more actions and new activities from everyday life. In conclusion, the results of the project are satisfactory, certain areas for improvement have been identified (e.g., increase in the number of participants and introduction of a control group) Experts should now undertake further steps to find ways to familiarize the parents with working with the robot and the application, to make this type of teaching technology more acceptable to them. A lot of progress has been made in this area in the last ten years, but these results confirm that there is still room for improvement.

Development, implementation and analysis of the evalution questionnaires-conclusion

 

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O3-Development and implementation of the robot’s software scenarios-conclusion

We have developed and used a set of approximately 10 different robot’s play scenarios.

Play scenarios were targeting to support the following domains:
– social skills
– joint attention abilities
– cause and effect
– emotions
– turn taking
– imitation
– language abilities
– collaboration skills
– daily life skills
– general knowledge.

Each play scenario or game, was associated to a particular aspect of the intervention, targeting and supporting the development of children’s abilities through interactions with the robot Kaspar. Scenarios were developed as collaborative effort of all project partners.

In this proof of concept research, we have included 20 children, 13 boys and 7 girls, aged from 23 month to 76 months, previously diagnosed for autism.

Corona virus pandemic forced us to make several changes in the study protocol and provoked some risks, but in the end, we have resolved all risks and fellfield our aims and objectives.

Kaspar turned out to be a very engaging tool for children with autism. Out of 20 children, only five did not fully engaged in the sessions. They were not interested on him, ignoring him and only responding on some of the games they found very appealing. We must mention that those children had very severe form of autism and did not respond well on other treatments too. Other children were spontaneously being engaged in the play and interacted with Kaspar. The most interesting game scenario for them was “Song”. Afterword, the liked very much “I am happy” and “Animal game”. Most of them enjoyed drumming play. Overall, children copied Kaspar’s movements, singing, pointed body parts. One child was mesmerized by Kaspar and thought that was a real child, while two other children were fascinated by Kaspar’s voice. A few of them wanted to kiss Kaspar.

As stated above, interaction with Kaspar is a multimodal embodied interaction where the complexity of interaction can be controlled, tailored and gradually increased to the needs of the individual child. And it is in such cases that Kaspar, is socially effective and suitable as a tool for interaction experiments.

Kaspar affords a variety of usages for human-robot interaction studies, in being able to provide a high degree of expressiveness and ability to carry out interaction games. Note that the ‘mobility’ of Kaspar (i.e. ease of transport) and suitability for a variety of interaction scenarios and application areas are important to the field of human–robot interaction, as most existing robotic platforms are still limited to usage in the laboratory and need to be set up and operated by highly trained staff. Kaspar belongs to a new category of more ‘user friendly’ and (relatively) inexpensive robots that can be constructed by robotic students and researchers with no specific expert knowledge in humanoid robotics. Additionally, programming the robot according to each child’s individual needs could also have a positive impact on their development.

O3-Development and implementation of the robot's software scenarios-conclusion

 

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O4-Development of complementary Apps for personal mobile devices-conclusion

O5-Video documentary-conclusion