Background and objectives: Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) experience challenges with social interactions, a core feature of the disorder. Social skills therapy has been shown to be helpful. Over the past several years, computer-assisted and robot-assisted therapies have been infiltrating the social skills teaching environment. Rapid progress in the field of technology, especially in the robotics area, offers tremendous possibilities for innovation and treatment or even education for individuals with ASD. This paper's purpose is to drive awareness of these innovative interventions in order to support the social lives of children with ASD. The aims of the paper are identifying (1) the types of Information Technology platforms that are being evaluated in computer and robot-assisted therapies for children with ASD; (2) the various disciplines or professions studying and utilizing these computer and robot-assisted social skill therapies; (3) the outcomes being evaluated in each trial; and (4) if results demonstrate benefits to children with autism.
Materials and methods: PubMed, CINAHL, Science Direct, and Web of Science databases were searched for clinical trials published over the past five years. Search terms incorporated the subject intersection of autism, and computer or robot-assisted therapy. Results were mined for pediatric populations only and study designs establishing controlled comparisons.
Results: Eighteen unique international studies were identified that utilize robot interventions (11 studies) and serious computer game interventions (seven studies). Most demonstrated promising results in improving outcomes for children with ASD. Study implications reveal a rapidly evolving assistive technology for ASD social skills therapy.
Conclusions: These interventions show considerable promise, but more effectiveness and cost effectiveness research of high quality should be carried out with larger numbers of children. Also, further studies are necessary to evaluate these technologies' effectiveness amongst adults with ASD and within unique subsets of the higher functioning autism population.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorders; computers; intervention psychosocial/behavioral; robots; school-age children; therapy.