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The Effectiveness of a Robot-Intervention Compared to a Human-Trainer Intervention in Promoting Question Asking in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
B. Huskens and R. Verschuur, Research & Development, Dr. Leo Kannerhuis, Doorwerth, Netherlands
Background: Recent studies targeting self-initiated question asking have shown that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are able to engage in self-initiated question asking, and that self-initiated question asking can be generalized to the home situation. Recently, technology is becoming increasingly important in interventions for children with ASD, for example by using speech generating devices during communication interventions, computer games or robots. Until now the studies investigating the effectiveness of robot-interventions are only exploratory and have methodological limitations. Drawing firm conclusions is therefore difficult.  

Objectives: The aim of the present study was to promote self-initiated question asking in school-aged children with ASD by conducting a robot-intervention and a human trainer-intervention. The objective was to investigate the effectiveness of both interventions. 

Methods: Data were collected using a combined crossover multiple baseline design across participants. Six children were randomly assigned to two experimental groups. During the sessions a statement-question-action scenario was used to elicit self-initiated questions. During the intervention, using a least-to-most prompting hierarchy, the children were prompted either by the robot or the human trainer to initiate a question related to a statement. Data-analysis involved visual inspection and the calculation of Taunovlap that examines data nonoverlap between phases. The overall Taunovlapwas also calculated. 

Results: The results revealed that the number of self-initiated questions significantly increased between baseline and the first intervention for both experimental groups. The values of Taunovlap showed a significant increase for all children. The number of self-initiated questions remained high during the subsequent phases of the study.

Conclusions: Both the robot-intervention and the human trainer-intervention effectively promoted self-initiated question asking in children with ASD. The high number of self-initiated questions during follow-up indicates that both experimental groups maintained this skill. Practical implications and directions for future research will be discussed.

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