Interacting with toys and other people is fundamental for developing social communication skills. However, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are characterized by having a significant impairment in social interaction, which often leads to deficits in play skills. For this reason, methods of teaching play skills to young children with ASD have been well documented. Although previous studies have examined a variety of instructional strategies for teaching skills, few studies have evaluated the potential of using robotic devices. The purpose of the present study is to examine whether automatic feedback provided by colored lights and vibration via paired robotic devices, COLOLO, facilitates social play behaviors in children with ASD. We also explore how social play relates to social interaction. COLOLO is a system of paired spherical devices covered with soft fabric. All participants in this study were recruited as volunteers through the Department of Psychology at Keio University. The pilot study included three participants diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs; 5- to 6-year-old boys), and compared experimental conditions with and without automatic feedback from the devices (colored lights and vibration). The results indicated that the participants in the condition that included feedback from the devices exhibited increased rates of ball contact and looking at the therapist's ball, but did not exhibit increased rates of eye contact or positive affect. In the experimental study, a systematic replication of the pilot study was performed with three other participants diagnosed with PDDs (3- to 6-year-old boys), using an A-B-A-B design. Again, the results demonstrated that, in the condition with colored lights and vibration, the children increased ball contact as well as looking at the therapist's ball. However, the results did not show the effect of automatic feedback consistently for three children. These findings are discussed in terms of the potential of paired robotic devices as a method to facilitate social play for children with ASD.
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