Understanding Agency in Interactions Between ChildrenWith Autism and Socially Assistive Robots

Elaine Schaertl Short, Eric C. Deng, David Feil-Seifer, Maja J. Matarić


Socially assistive robotics (SAR) has increasingly been shown to have potential as a tool for social skills therapy for children with autism, a developmental disorder associated with atypical social development. This work presents the results of a study of robot agency on child-robot interactions involving children with autism. We describe the development of a SAR interaction scenario with both agent-like and object-like robot behaviors and present the results of a pilot study of six children with autism interacting with a humanoid robot with the full controller, as well as three types of control: a non-humanoid “box” robot with similar behavior (reduced morphological agency), a humanoid robot with random behavior (reduced behavioral agency), and a robotic toy (reduced morphological and behavioral agency). We find that the children can be divided into two groups depending on their reaction to the robot; for some children, the robot was an engaging object that elicited social behavior by providing novel and appealing sensory experiences (primarily bubbleblowing), while for other children, the robot was an agent and elicited social behavior through agentlike actions such as autonomous movement. We found that the first group had small differences between robot conditions and vocalized most with the bubble-blowing toy, while the second group vocalized most with the humanoid robots and looked less at the humanoid portion of the robot with reduced behavioral agency.


socially assistive robotics, autism spectrum disorders

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5898/JHRI.6.3.Short


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