Autism case study

The client and location

A case study of two adults with autism was conducted in a household in Melbourne, Australia. The parents care for Melissa, aged 23 and Christopher, aged 25, who have autism.

The brief

Melissa is a 23 year-old-female diagnosed with autism. According to her parents, she lacks self-confidence, has trouble focusing on people and tasks, and has difficulty holding short conversations.  As her mother explained, her daughter “needs a structured environment to engage her in activities that stimulate and motivate her. Without activities that engage her she will engage in obsessive-compulsive behaviours.” Existing technological devices like iPad cannot engage her for long.

Her parents wanted their daughter to be more productive at home rather than watching TV programs for most of the day. For example, they wanted her to help out with basic household chores and also improve her hygiene habits.

In contrast to Melissa, Christopher likes to interact with technological devices. His parents' concern about Christopher is his toileting habits and personal hygiene. Also, his parents wanted to help him be more motivated to learn.

A one-year trial was conducted using a social robot, Lucy.

Key services

We designed the following services for our clients:

Sensory enrichment

We designed and delivered personalised services to reflect the participants’ lifestyle choices and choose music, songs, news and stories personalised to their taste. We also factored in: positive sporadic experiences, social needs, and family history. The services trialled included singing and dancing, interactive storytelling, playing bingo and phone calls.

Productivity and cognitive ability

For the participants, the ability to play a meaningful and productive role in their daily life was important for their emotional wellbeing. Being able to grow their knowledge, skills, engage and contribute with family and other people helps them feel useful. In this context, we designed the quiz and reminder based services. The quizzes included questions to improve the participants’ basic knowledge and understanding of toilet hygiene and help increase productivity in their daily activities. For example, the reminder service helped the participants’ participate in family chores productively.

Social connectivity

  • Games (Bingo, Hoy)
  • Phone calls
  • Media (photo, video, voice messages) exchanges

New services

Parents/carers could write and upload their own quizzes, stories, music to the robot to personalise the services.

Outcomes

During the nine-month trial, Lucy, Melissa and Christopher communicated over 2300 times and spent more than 152 hours interacting.

The robot taught the Melissa and Christopher activities for daily living using repetitive quizzes. The robot, Lucy, also helped improve the their vocabularies and hygiene habits and their carer reported they were more likely to do their chores.

The following outcomes were achieved:

  • improved sensory enrichment
  • increased efficiency and motivation to do daily tasks
  • increased social interaction (between people with autism and their family)
  • new learning experiences.

Client feedback

"Melissa was delighted to see Lucy. To my surprise she gave her a kiss. I wish I had got a photo of this, it was very cute."

"Melissa has been enjoying listening to music. The reward after she got the washing off the line (prompted by Lucy)."

"Their sister is in Indonesia at the moment and sent some messages via Lucy the robot. The look of delight on Melissa's face when the random message appeared was priceless."

"Melissa has grabbed the books and put Lucy back into the reading program. Way to go team.”