Actress and author Jane Asher, President of the National Autistic Society and Patron of TRACKS autism, gave the key note presentation at the University of Hertfordshire’s Supporting Children with Autism Healthcare Forum 2013.
Healthcare Forum 2013
The forum, opened by Professor Quintin McKellar, Vice Chancellor at the University of Hertfordshire, brought together over 150 people who have an interest in supporting children with autism. Jane discussed the issues affecting these children and the impact on their lives and their families.
Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn explained how the University research project, KASPAR, could provide an alternative therapeutic tool for these children. KASPAR is a minimally expressive humanoid robot which has been specifically designed to encourage communication and social interaction between autistic children and their peers.
Improving the lives of children with autism
Jane Asher said: “Early intervention is vital in improving the lives of children with autism as well as those of their families and carers. Introducing KASPAR can help to give these children the tools they need to help themselves. It has been wonderful to see the impact that KASPAR has had and I commend the University for taking this research so far.”
KASPAR – predictable and safe
Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn said: “Children with autism are very comfortable with computers as it is very predictable environment with a predictable and safe interface. Robots are like computers but with a physical presence – and like a computer they are predictable.
“Although KASPAR has a human shape and human behaviour, it is introduced as a robot and never as a child. And because KASPAR is predictable, the children relax and start to play – starting to learn life skills like communication and social interaction through their play. Parents and teachers have been surprised by the results they have witnessed – some seeing their child interact, mimic or make eye contact for the first time in their school.”
The research team at the University, led by Professor Dautenhahn, has been researching the use of robotics to improve the social skills of children with autism over the last seven years. They have worked closely with a number of children over many years including children at TRACKS autism a local charity in Stevenage. Research continues with clinical trials planned later in the year.