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how can robots be used in special education

How Can Robots Be Used in Special Education to Help Children with Disabilities?


Imagine this: A world where robots play a crucial role in teaching social skills to children with autism, where translation software revolutionizes the learning experience for deaf students, and where cutting-edge data analysis leads the way in identifying effective methods for those struggling with dyslexia. Welcome to the future of inclusive education, where technology not only bridges gaps but also empowers every learner to thrive. These tools incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) aim to find a better way to identify the challenges and teach and assist those with learning disabilities. While some of these tools have already found their way into classroom settings, some are still budding in the research lab.

Social humanoid robots like NAO are developed to interact with humans. They can assist in developing social and educational skills for students, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Down syndrome, hearing impairments, and autism. There are many studies exploring how can robots be used in special education, and it is still ongoing. This blog will delve into the groundbreaking innovations reshaping the educational landscape, making it more accessible and enriching for all. Join us as we explore the intersection of technology and education, uncovering how they are changing lives at a time.

How can robots be used in special education

Through gaming

Scientists have shown the simplest ways to use AI to aid those with autism, i.e., gaming. Vanderbilt University professors have created a video game called ‘Film Detective’ where the player wakes up in the future and helps a scientist and her robot to catch the villain. They conduct their investigation by analyzing several movie clips to see how individuals behave in modern society. 

Many autistic children are superior in their visual thinking but face challenges in social action. This game leverages the concept of theory of mind, incorporating movie clips to prompt players to analyze the motives behind characters’ actions and what their thoughts might have been. While creating the game and viewing the movies concurrently would have been feasible without AI, what sets the approach apart is the ability to offer an exceptionally detailed and explicit model of social reasoning that can be simulated. This serves as valuable scaffolding in educating children.

To identify patterns

Another key use of AI in special education is its ability to identify patterns by analyzing vast amounts of data to detect better and define specific disabilities. For instance, the University of Oregon’s scientists have planned to examine the outcomes of dyslexia students’ patterns using machine learning (ML) from DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) tests to evaluate if DIBELS successfully identifies dyslexia and how it can be used most effectively.

Benefits of using robots for students with disabilities 

Robots have the potential to significantly transformeducation for children with disabilities by providing personalized and inclusive learning experiences. Here are five ways in which robots can have a positive impact:

Personalized learning 

Robots can adapt to the individual needs and learning styles of each child. AI algorithms can assess a child’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences and adjust the content and pace of instruction accordingly. This is particularly beneficial for children with disabilities who may require tailored approaches.

Speech and language therapy 

Robots with advanced speech recognition and synthesis capabilities can assist children with speech and language impairments. They can engage in interactive conversations, provide real-time feedback, and offer a safe and non-judgmental environment for practice.

Social skills development 

Many children with disabilities struggle with social interactions. Social robots can be designed to help them practice social skills in a controlled environment. These robots can simulate conversations, facial expressions, and body language, gradually building confidence and competence.

Physical therapy and mobility support 

For children with mobility challenges, robots can serve as assistive devices. They can provide support during physical therapy sessions, helping with exercises and providing feedback on posture and movement. Some robots can even assist with mobility, helping children move around more independently.

Emotional support and well-being

Robots can be designed to recognize and respond to emotions. They can provide comfort, companionship and even teach emotional regulation skills. This is particularly important for children with emotional or behavioral disabilities who may benefit from a consistent and non-judgmental presence.

Accessible learning materials 

Robots can be equipped with text-to-speech, image recognition, and other accessibility tools to make learning materials more accessible for children with various disabilities. This ensures that content is available in formats that cater to individual needs.

The role of humanoid robots for student with disabilities

Addressing the needs of children with autism spectrum disorder is particularly important because, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – 1 out of 54 children are diagnosed with ASD.  So, how can robots be used in special education?

Children responds more to robots than other therapies

It is also showcased in different studies that children respond to robots in a way that they generally do not to pet therapies, puppets, or other things specialists have tried. One such reason can be robots’ non-judgmental approach and their human lookalikes. These robots boast diverse designs, from a charming small boy to a classic sci-fi contraption and even an adorable furry snowman. They answer lively names like Kaspar, NAO, and Zeno, adding a touch of personality to their high-tech capabilities. 

How can robots be used in special education with NAO?

Francois Truffaut Day Hospital in Paris integrated NAO to offer overall treatment for autistic children. A specialist teacher is appointed to control NAO and provide four types of activities: dictation, reading, imitation, and risk-taking in terms of balance. Thierry Le Buhé, the specialized teacher, provides an ethnographic account of how children engage with this robot. His observations of children’s engagement and improved levels of attention suggest NAO was an excellent complement to existing teaching resources.

The idea was to add an extra hand with the teacher or caregiver and not to replace them. Encouraging kids to respond to only technology will not do any good but enabling them to interact with people more substantially will improve educational and social skills. However, more studies are required to find out how to make these changes stick and translate to the real world.

Research indicates how can robots be used in special education 

As technology progresses, so does research on the formation of perceptions, the ability to infer emotions and thoughts, and the components of emotional intelligence. These findings can be transformed into algorithms enabling robots to decipher speech, gestures, and intricate verbal and nonverbal signals and learn from feedback. 

While social robots are primarily used for research studies, robots like NAO and QTRobot have also made their mark in the classrooms and individual uses. NAO aids autistic children around the world in a variety of clinical projects. Some notable projects involving NAO robot autism include HERO, DREAM, etc. Similarly, QTRobot, created by a Luxembourg-based company in 2021, is also designed for autistic children and their parents. Yale University published a story on Rachel Ricci, the first person in Canada to order a robot for her 10-year-old son Caden with autism. Caden and his parents or therapist utilize tablets for engaging in games designed to boost his educational and social skills, like identifying and naming emotions. The robot takes on the role of an encouraging companion and instructor, acting as a valuable third friend in this learning process. The robot also helped the boy to build his confidence. 

In the end

In the discussion surrounding the integration of robots and how can robots be used in special education, it’s clear that opinions vary widely. A crucial distinction exists between the one-on-one use of a robot in a private home versus its implementation within a school setting. While the allure of this technology is undeniable, it’s seldom employed precisely as intended within the classroom. Instead, the actual need lies in bolstering our educational system with more dedicated teachers, capable aides, and a top-notch curriculum. It’s a poignant reminder that, while robots can be valuable tools, they are not a substitute for the human touch that is vital in fostering a nurturing and effective learning environment. Balancing the benefits of technology with the irreplaceable role of educators remains a crucial challenge as we chart the course of education in the digital age.

From Pepper and NAO to unique robot management platform- PROVEN Robotics, a leading robotics provider in Saudi Arabia, has lot to offer that can transform the education sector for better. To know more, book a demo with us.