Background: Social robots may represent an important technological instrument for improving the social abilities of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Objectives: This work describes exploratory research in which a doctor game scenario, involving a social robot and a human partner, was implemented and tested with children with ASD.
Patients and Methods: Thirty children between the ages of four and eight who had been diagnosed with ASD were included in this study. The children alternated between playing a doctor game with the social robot Probo and playing the same game with a human partner, and were exposed to each condition only once in a counter-balanced order. The symbolic play task and the experimental setup were designed to test whether the children would engage in more collaborative behaviors while playing the doctor game with a social robot than performing the same activities with the human partner.
Results: Although the children with ASD were more interested in and entertained by the robotic partner, the children did not have better performance in the game, and did not show significantly more collaborative play and engagement while playing with the social robot, compared with the human partner.
Conclusions: A longer and more thorough study is needed to interpret these findings and better understand the ASD child-robot interaction. This paper concludes with a discussion of the related literature and proposals for future research directions.