Leka brings accessible teaching tool to parents, therapists and caregivers of Children with Autism, Down Syndrome
By John M. Williams
Kansas City, MO —Leka,, a robotic smart toy company, recently launched its Indiegogo campaign to raise $60,000 to develop a new robot for children with developmental disorders such as autism and down syndrome.
A development disorder is an impairment in normal development of language, motor, cognitive and/or motor skills, generally recognized before age 18 which is expected to continue indefinitely and constitutes a substantial impairment Etiology Mental retardation, in cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other neurologic conditions. Leka, the robot’s name, is an intelligent, interactive and multi-sensory toy (ball) for disabled children that stimulates social interaction and increases motor, cognitive and emotional capacities. Children can kick the ball, throw it, run with it and roll it. Leka can detect and respond to a child’s interaction through autonomous behaviors. For example, if Leka is mistreated and thrown to the ground, it gets sad and turns red, a color associated with sadness. Interactive responses, like this, help children understand social cues and improve their social skills.
Disabled children have problems finding toys that meet their needs. This makes it more difficult for them to learn and make progress. Moreover, they find it impossible to find products that fulfil that goal and let them have fun, all at the same time.
It was with these children and their learning needs in mind that Frenchman Ladislas de Toldifounder and ChiefExecutive Officer createdLeka.
Leka is predictable and stable in its interactions, which is very important for the child’s sense of safety and serenity,” says de Toldi. “Leka caters to the specific needs of the kids and focuses on multi-sensory stimulation. Its colors, sounds, vibrations help improve sensory processing and reduces anxiety.”
Starting at the pre-order price of $390, Leka claims that its robot has the capacity to become a child’s companion and friend. Because robots tend to be predictable in their actions, they’re the perfect playmate for children with developmental disorders, making their human counterparts feel safe and secure. And by playing educational games with children, Leka can foster a sense of social engagement, which developers hope will lead to greater, more efficient progress.
“Our mission is to help exceptional children live exceptional lives by reducing the learning inequalities that many children with different developmental disorders currently deal with,” said de Toldi . “While there has been a lot of innovation regarding smart toys that can aid in cognitive development, these toys cost from $3,000 to $10,000. Leka, is a resource for parents who want to complement existing therapies and further to foster family harmony between children and their parents, siblings and grandparents through play both at school and in-home.”
It took two years to develop the ball using an evidence-based approach. Its progress was validated through testing and the scientific community.. As robots have the ability to be predictable in their actions – an important trait for children with developmental disorders – Leka gives users a sense of safety. Coupled with this predictability and Leka’s capability to stimulate a child’s senses, Leka can socially engage children and nurture greater, more efficient progress.
Through Leka’s mobile app (available on both iOS and Android phones and tablets), the toy is controlled via Bluetooth connectivity. Once paired, users can control Leka through two separate modes: manually control Leka’s movements and actions or access autonomous applications that engage children across multiple disciplines.
When shipped in 2017, Leka will include seven educational activities allowing children to play while also reinforcing social and cognitive learning. They are: Picture Bingo, Hide & Go Leka, Traveling Leka, Remote Control Leka, Time-Timer, Alarm Clock and Night Light. During the Indiegogo campaign, Leka will feature three of the initial seven applications.
· Picture Bingo: When playing Picture Bingo, Leka’s screen will randomly display a picture of an object and request that the child brings the object to Leka. Paired with RFID tags, Leka senses when a child returns with the displayed object and reacts positively to reward the child for completing the task. This game engages and develops fine motor skills, space-time orientation, attention and interaction. A timer can also be added to the game, encouraging children to complete daily tasks such as brushing their teeth.
· Traveling Leka: When playing Traveling Leka, parents will place color patches, enabled with RFID tags, around the room. Leka will spin around, stop its attention on the child and light up a certain color. The child must then place Leka on the patch with the matching color to complete the task. Once the child finds the patch with the coordinating color, Leka will provide motivating feedback by laughing or lighting up.
· Hide & Go Leka: To play Hide & Go Leka, a caregiver, parent or sibling will hide Leka for the child to find. In order to find Leka, the child will follow sounds and vibrations that Leka gives off. When the child finds Leka, the robot will open its eyes and make sounds, lights and vibrations, or change its expression.
Leka will also include a cloud-based Monitoring Platform at launch. Equipped with sensors that record how a child is interacting with Leka, information is automatically uploaded to the platform so that parents, therapists and caregivers have the ability to track a child’s individual progress. The platform tracks how children touch and manipulate the device, the time they spend on activities, and reaction time to instructions. From this shared interface parents, therapists, and caregivers can also communicate, including assigning homework and sharing notes on a child’s use and progress.
“What is so exciting about Leka is that it will allow for greater progress when children are not in a therapist’s care, especially with the use of the monitoring platform and the data it captures,” said Tiffany Plock, therapist at ABA Connect, an early intervention service provider for children with or at risk for autism. “Children with autism, for example, generally play best alone, and through Leka we can use it as an intermediary to teach through play while also tracking progress remotely. I see this tool as becoming instrumental in a child’s growth to allow the best of both worlds—therapy with professionals as well as in-home support.”
Leka is set on changing the way children with developmental disorders learn, play and progress. Available for purchase online, Leka is an interactive tool designed to make communication between therapists, parents and children easier, more efficient and more accessible. Working with and adapting to each child’s own needs and abilities, Leka provides vital feedback to parents and therapists on a child’s progress and growth.
John M. Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Rollins Reports on Progress with Children with Autism
By John M. Williams
Milo helps children with autism improve communications with their family, peers and others
Washington, DC – Appearing as a newsmaker at the National Press Club before the press, advocates for disabled people, employees from the US Department of Education and from the Office of Science and Technology, Pamela Rollins, MS Ed.D.CCC-SLP revealed the results of her research surrounding the engagement of children with autism and robot-supported therapy and how such therapy is changing the way therapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders is viewed.
She defined autism as a neurodevelopmental disorder that emerges before 3 years of age. “It can,” she said, “be reliably diagnosis between 18-24 months in most children.”
Spectrum refers to the diversity of symptoms, skills and disability.
Dr. Rollins stressed there were three main points that she wanted attendees to take away from her presentation. They were: (1). Robots4Autism uses Evidence-Based Practices to discover relevant social information to teach social skills; (2). Children with autism are more engaged with Milo than with people; and (3). children who are more engaged learn better.
Milo encourages an amazing level of engagement in children with autism. Many children with ASD experience auditory overload. The visual symbols on Milo’s chest can help them process what is being asked of them during lessons and practice sessions to gain a deeper understanding. The iPad (tablet) connected to Milo plays video and gives students tests during their lessons. The information captured by the iPad is recorded and sent to their therapists or other autism experts. The tablet can be an android or a windows-based tablet. Her research has been instrumental in the development of Robots4Autism. Using Robots4Autism, a research-based curriculum, Milo, a robot, can read an individual’s emotions and level of attentiveness, and then adjust his verbal and non-verbal interactions to enable human-like social engagement. Milo initiates learning and educational games to keep students engaged through their entire lessons, and offers repetition of materials without frustration that is vital for a child to internalize lessons. As a therapy solution, Milo is patient and his child-like features don’t intimidate children.
Milo was created by RoboKind, a Dallas, TX based corporation. RoboKind delivers evidence-based practices and therapies that include appropriate interaction for verbal and non-verbal learners. RoboKind develops robots and supporting curriculum specifically for autism intervention. It developed the technology used by Milo.
Why is the development of Robots4Autism important? The prevalence of ASD has increased ten-fold in the past 40 years. In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control projected that 1 in 150 American children had autism. Today, an estimated one in 68 is affected by the disorder.
Currently, the CDC reports that it costs roughly $17,000 more per year to care for a child with ASD, and nearly $21,000 for children with more severe cases of autism. Intervention has been shown to reduce the lifetime costs of those living with autism by nearly two-thirds. More than $208,000 per child across eighteen years of education with Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention Services, for a total savings of $2.09 billion. Today, those numbers have nearly doubled.
Humanoid robots have emerged as powerful therapy tools that will support educators, therapists, speech language pathologists and parents, and ultimately save millions of dollars in medical costs and intervention.
“My colleague Michelle McFarlin and I chose a combination of social narratives, visual supports and video modeling. We chose this combination of Evidence Based Practices (EBS) because children with ASD experience weak central coherence, meaning they tend to focus on the details and have difficulty understanding a central theme,” said Dr. Rollins. These practices bring coherence to social information allowing the children to understand the “gist” of relevant social skills.
When addressing social Interaction and robots, Dr. Rollins said, “The preliminary research is promising.” She saw many children with ASD respond better to robots than to humans. The contact increased their engagement and responsiveness, improved their ability to recognize emotions and to talk more. There were individual differences in performance.
As a four time governor appointed member of the Texas Council for Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders Dr. Rollins research supports national social pragmatic theories. In her presentation Dr. Rollins indicated that two core features of ASD were persistent deficits in social communication and interaction and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior,
Robots4autism works on reciprocal interaction, identifying social cues and giving the appropriate social response, perspective taking and understanding facial expressions and emotions.
The program uses EBP to describe relevant social information to teach social skills. These practices include social narratives, visual supports (picture symbols) and video modeling.
Social skills touched on reciprocal interaction, identifying social cues, appropriate social responses, perspective-taking and understanding of facial expressions and emotions.
Deficits in Social Communication and Social Interaction
As children with ASD get older they continue to struggle with sharing information, with conversation, perspective taking and other social skills. It is important that intervention focus on developing social communication and interaction skills.
Despite variability all individuals with ASD have persistent deficits in this area. Social communication moves beyond the ability to utter words and sentences. It refers to using language to “share,” verbally and nonverbally.
Very early in life children with ASD have little reciprocal social interaction (that back and forth vocalizing and smiling that occurs as early as 2 months of age in typical children). They also do not point at 10 months of age, like typical children do. Think about when a baby begins --The infant realizes the caregiver’s attention is different than their own. The caregiver can attend to many things; by pointing to what the infant is saying “I want you to look at what I am looking at…I want to share this with you”. This is a major developmental milestone that takes several years for children with ASD to achieve children …if they achieve it at all.
Research Question and Motivation
Recall that many children with ASD respond better to Robots than to humans but there are individual differences in performance. Dr. Rollins wanted to know what specific features of the robot-child interaction facilitate social understanding in children with ASD? Knowing the answer allows her to optimize Milo assisted intervention. “We needed to understand why some children with ASD show more engagement than others,” says Dr. Rollins.
Dr. Rollins’ hypothesis was children with ASD would be more engaged with both the therapist and Milo in the student-led condition as compared to the robot-led condition, but this was not what she discovered.
Dr. Rollins said, “So far we have tested 12 children with ASD between 5-14 years, but only 9 met inclusion criteria for the study.” Some were minimally verbal and others had more fluent speech. The inclusion criteria involved the participants understanding cause and effect, knowing how to use a tablet to communicate with Milo, possessing the knowledge to recognize picture symbols and can answer yes and no questions.
Dr. Rollins and her assistant recorded the children with Milo across two conditions:
1. Robot-led Condition - Milo tells the child what to do.
2. Student-led Condition - Child tells Milo what to do by selecting an action from a tablet.
They coded the recordings for social engagement using ¼ second precision.
When Milo speaks, people listen.
Milo: “Hello everyone. I make learning fun and exciting for children with autism. As I talk, I show icons on my chest, videos on tablets, and I can repeat lessons for my friends as often as they need. My courses for autism treatment are written by experts to help children learn and connect if they are verbal and nonverbal. I can be updated with advanced lessons and new content. Isn’t that great!”
Using Robots4Autism, Milo can read an individual’s emotions and level of attentiveness, and then adjust his verbal and non-verbal interactions to enable human-like social engagement. Milo initiates learning and educational games to keep students engaged through their entire lessons, and offers repetition of materials without frustration that is vital for a child to internalize lessons. As a therapy solution, Milo is patient and his child-like features don’t intimidate children.
Dr. Rollins cited an incident with a 14-year-old boy named Cole. Rollins said Cole is compliant and affectionate. His ASD significantly affects both social interaction and verbal/nonverbal communication. Although Cole complies with his teachers’ wishes he has difficulty learning what they are teaching him. While showing a video of Cole, Dr. Rollins said, “As you can see in the video, Cole is less engaged during the session with the therapist than with Milo. Children who are engaged are ready to learn.” Dr. Rollins says.
She met Cole in the waiting room before his first visit to the Callier Center. His mother asked him, “Can you say ‘hi’ to Dr. Rollins?” Cole was compliant just as he was in the video and said “hello.” However, his head was turned away from Dr. Rollins and there was no eye contact.
“We took Cole through the first lesson in the Robots4Autism curriculum which teaches the children to look, smile and say Hi” said Dr. Rollins.” After completing the first lesson, Cole came out of the therapy room and greeted me with a big smile on his face and said “hi” while looking directly at me,” said Dr. Rollins.
Later that night Cole’s mother sent me a text to tell me that Cole has been practicing what Milo taught him, ever since we left. He looks us in the eyes, has a huge smile and says ‘Hi!’
“We were surprised to learn that our hypothesis was wrong,” Dr. Rollins said. Their research found that children with ASD are more engage with Milo than with the therapist especially when Milo was instructing them. And we know children who engaged learn better. Why? Because engagement equals learning.
How does the public view Dr. Rollins findings? There is support and hope.
Special education teacher Carey Windom says, “Dr. Rollins findings can assist children with autism expand their world for the better.” Windom has worked with autistic children.
Milton Mays has an 11-year-old-nephew with autism. He says, “This program pf Robots4autism can demonstrate accurately that a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Cathy Hendricks seven-year-old daughter is autistic. Her communication skills need improvement. Hendricks says, “This Robots4autism program can dramatically change my daughter’s future.”
Dr. Pamela Rollins has more than 30 years of research, teaching and clinical practice serving children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She is familiar with how autism intervention program are supporting teachers and helping children with autism by teaching critical social and emotional skills. Dr. Rollins teaches graduate level courses on the assessment and treatment of children with ASD at the Callier Center for Communication Disorders at the University of Texas at Dallas. . Her recently published book is titled Early Communication, Language & Social Skills: From Theory to Practice.
Humanoids allow students to have multiple repetitions, which is vital to their learning and making progress.