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Therapeutic Robot to Teach Social Skills to Primary School Children with ASD

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 1R43HD054407-01
Agency Tracking Number: HD054407
Amount: $122,809.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: N/A
Solicitation Number: PHS2006-2
Solicitation Year: 2006
Award Year: 2006
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): N/A
Award End Date (Contract End Date): N/A
Small Business Information
United States
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: Yes
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (301) 495-0770
Business Contact
Phone: (301) 495-0770
Research Institution

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): This project is part of a long-term effort to reduce the burdens and disability associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The majority of adults and adolescents who have an ASD diagnosis do not have mental retardation, and are notable for their language abilities, which in many cases appear intact. Nevertheless these individuals fail to achieve vocational success consonant with their intellectual level, and may be unable to form friendships and relationships outside their family. The specific aim of the project is to develop a training simulation to improve these individuals' ability to participate in social conversation. Equipped with basic conversational skills individuals with ASD may gain more opportunities to interact and improve the quality of their relationships. The applicant is using technology it originally developed to create training simulations for specialized social interactions (e.g., for an interviewer to detect suicide risk in a soldier). The training simulation is based on a complex model of the simulated character's shifting emotional state in response to the history of the conversation, the user's most recent response, and an element of chance. The simulation includes a database of hundreds of video clips performed by a professional actor, and a large set of responses available for the user to speak or select by mouse click. The system offers help features, with straightforward explanations of the simulated character's reactions, and guidance with response choice; an on-screen coach who provides overt signals in response to the appropriateness of the user's response choice; playback options, so that the user can review parts or all of an interaction; and game features: points for success and cheering for improved scores and ultimately achieving the game's objective, agreement of the simulated character to another meeting with the user. The simulation content will be developed by the applicant's skilled script-writers with input from an autism researcher from Catholic University, then reviewed prior to video by three research and clinical specialists in ASD and a gentleman who himself has ASD, prior to videotaping. Usability field-testing will be conducted with 10 members of the target population. Data representing their use of the simulation and its features will be automatically logged, and they will respond to a debriefing questionnaire. Any modifications indicated will be incorporated into the more extensive simulation to be proposed for Phase II funding. This project will adapt a therapeutic toy robot, CosmoBot, in order to engage children with severe social delays associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in activities to promote development of social skills. The toy robot will be equipped with sets of game programs from which therapists can choose. Therapists in two locations will test the therapeutic toy and its social games with ten primary-school-aged children who have these impairments, in order to evaluate how easy the system is to use, how much it appeals to the children, and whether it has positive effects on children's social skills.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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