All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Maria I Hopkins

Advisory Committee Members

Franklin R Amthor

Fred J Biasini

Scott W Snyder

Laura A Stoppelbein

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


This study examined the effectiveness, feasibility, and acceptability of a robot- based intervention program designed to improve social-emotional skills in school-age children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Twenty-two children with ASD and mild-to-no cognitive impairment were randomized to intervention (n = 11) or waitlist control groups (n = 11) for eight weeks. Participants who completed the robot-based intervention displayed decreased overall engagement from baseline to post-intervention, based on an eye-tracking measure. Nonetheless, they reported high favorability ratings at post-intervention, including consistently high ratings of happiness, increased comfort ratings, and only slightly decreased ratings of desire for future interactions across time. Group comparisons indicated significant improvement in overall accuracy for identifying face drawings and photos corresponding with robotic emotional facial expressions for individuals in the intervention group. There were no group differences for amount of socially directed gaze with the robot during baseline and post-intervention sessions. Similarly, there were no group differences over time for generalized affect recognition and theory of mind skills. Taken together, results support the use of the robot-based intervention within this population as a tool for promoting an enjoyable learning environment conducive to skill development. Improved accuracy within the intervention group for matching robotic facial expressions, along with decreased visual engagement at post-intervention, suggests a shift from effortful processing to more automatic responding as a result of training. However, it is unclear whether this skill improvement resulted from learning of specific facts or the development of more generalized emotion decoding and understanding. Given strong baseline scores on robot-specific and generalized measures of emotion knowledge, results suggest that the information presented in the intervention may have been too simplistic for the sample included in the study, and future research will examine the efficacy and ultimate benefit of this tool within other subsets of children with ASD.



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