Robots Are Helping Autistic Children in Ways Humans Can Not

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 American children has an autism spectrum disorder. Autism varies case by case…recent research has found that autistic children are more comfortable interacting with robots than humans, in part because robots are more predictable and can be controlled. Experts also say teaching social skills to children with autism requires frequent repetition. Last time I checked, robots are great at repetition.” S. Crowe, Robotictrends

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key



Excerpt: 5 Promising Robots for Kids with Autism, By Steve Crowe, Robotictrends

“Children with autism have trouble understanding and engaging other people’s emotions, and with socially assistive robots, the child may be more readily engaged without being overwhelmed’ said Laurie Dickstein-Fischer, an assistant professor at Massachusetts’ Salem State University’s School of Education. And since toys are often more approachable than people for children with autism, we’re starting to see an influx of social robots that can be great tools to help autism therapy.”

Promising Robots for Kids with Autism:


Nao, the two-foot-tall humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics, can do a lot more than dance and look cute. The French company discovered Nao’s success in the classroom, resulting in the launch of ASK (Autism Solutions for Kids) Nao program.


Milo, a two-foot-tall humanoid robot, has proven to be very effective at reaching children with autism who have difficulty interacting with humans…Milo speaks 20% slower than an average human and has a limited range of facial expressions and is less likely to express emotions that get in the way of autistic children learning. Milo can repeat lessons over and over again without getting frustrated, saying things exactly the same way each time.


Leka has been co-developed with parents, therapists and caregivers to make therapy more accessible to children with autism, Down’s syndrome, or multiple disabilities. Leka’s goal is to help these children become more independent and improve their motor and social skills.


The Darwin-OP2 is a humanoid robot created by Chung Hyuk Park, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at George Washington University. Darwin-OP2 can interact with autistic children by playing soccer, dancing, and performing other activities. For example, Darwin-OP2 can say in a monotone voice that he is excited to “be friends and play soccer” with you as he kicks a little red ball.


Blue Frog Robotics, creator of Buddy the personal robot, is working with Auticiel to integrate apps that will help children with autism and other special needs learn to communicate, interact with others, and be more autonomous.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  social robots. Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance.

G. Cluster Brainstorming-workshopexercises

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart By Ellteaching 2.0 for assistance.

  1. We’re starting to see an influx of social robots.
  2. Leka the social robot was launched on Indiegogo.
  3. We must make therapy more accessible to children with autism.
  4. Nao’s tasks are semi-autonomous.
  5. Teachers can select and personalize tasks.
  6. Robots  are less intimidating than human playmates.
  7. Children with autism and other special needs learn to interact with others.
  8. Based on a child’s abilities, users can customize the level of difficulty.
  9. Buddy displays a video on his face showing how to wash hands step-by-step.
  10. Buddy dances and congratulates the child.

Reading Comprehension: Sentence Match

Directions: Students  are to complete the sentences from the article by selecting the correct words or phrases.

  1. Children with autism ___
  2. Toys are often more ___
  3. The robot’s goal is to help these children___
  4. We rounded up robots looking to have a___
  5. A French company discovered Nao’s success___
  6. When autistic children are engaged and comfortable,___


A.  improve their motor skills.   

B. much bigger impact on autism therapy.

C.  in the classroom.   

D. have trouble understanding and engaging. 

E. they’re better able to learn. 

F.  approachable than people.

 Grammar Focus: Word Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

The Darwin-OP2 is in the early/easy stages of development/develop, but Yetta Myrick, the mother of a 12-year-old son diagnosed/ diagnoses  with autism, says the possibilities are interesting/intriguing. She says her son, who hasn’t met Darwin-OP2, would like the robot/robber because he is less confusing/confused and intimidating than human playmates.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them  discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following  topics.

  1. The article states, Robots are helping autistic children in ways humans can’t.” With your group create a list of the things robots can do to help these children.
  2. Out of the robots mentioned in this article, which do you think is the most helpful? Why? Which do you think is the least helpful? Why?
  3. With your group create a robot that you think would be helpful to children with special needs. Draw pictures of what your think the robot should look like.


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.


Category: Autism, Technology