Bristol company creates robot to help children with autism learn life skills

Connecticut Families

Meet a small, approachable robot named QT, able to show emotion thanks to a screen that represents it’s face.  “I am looking forward to helping kids here in Connecticut,” says the machine which is engaging and exciting children – especially those with autism.

“The robots aren’t judgmental which is good for the kids,” explains Tim Gifford of Movia Robotics, based in Bristol which develops the software for these animated humanoids.  Gifford began his work years ago – at the University of Connecticut.  “There were several researchers who were finding success working with kids with autism and robots,” explains Gifford.  “I thought, ‘If we can get this out of the lab and into the classroom, this could make a difference.'”

Last fall, Movia launched a pilot program at two Bristol public schools.  The robot – which can demonstrate activities such as tooth brushing – helped kids on the spectrum practice life skills and social cues.  “It also worked on eye contact.  It’s important to work on eye contact with a human, right?  But it’s a great way to introduce some of that concept,” explains teacher Danyell Danielson.

“It’s really interesting and it’s different,” says District Director of Special Services Michael Dietter who was initially skeptical but ultimately pleased by the response.  “We immediately recognized this was something that would allow our students to expressive themselves and engage in ways they hadn’t previously…there’s no denying the high level of enthusiasm and emotion that we all saw.”

The robots are meant to assist teachers and therapists – always looking for new ways to reach a child with autism.  “We really want to change their lives,” says Gifford.  “If we can make a small change early, that can change their whole trajectory.”

While results were more anecdotal than scientific, the Bristol schools are in talks to bring the robot back next year.

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