LOS ROBOTS Y EL AUTISMO

Cómo logra este robot que un niño autista mire a los ojos

Escuelas en Europa y Estados Unidos están utilizando cada vez más el poder de robots conocidos como NAO para estimular a niños autistas.

Uno de esos colegios es Priors Court, una institución de vanguardia en Inglaterra dedicada a la educación de niños con autismo severo.

La institución fue fundada por Stephanie Shirley, pionera de la computación, empresaria y filántropa, luego de que su hijo autista Giles muriera de un ataque epiléptico a los 35 años.

«No todos los niños en Priors Court responden al robot», dijo Shirley a BBC Mundo.

«Pero los que sí lo hacen se relacionan verdaderamente con él. He visto como un niño profundamente autista se despedía del robot con un beso. Y hablamos de un niño que normalmente no quiere besar ni a su madre».

Todo comenzó con una madre…

El robot de Priors Court lleva el sobrenombre de «Steve» en honor a Stephanie Shirley. Steve era el apodo que Shirley usó al comienzo de su carrera para firmar sus cartas de negocios y obtener respuestas en un mundo corporativo dominado por hombres.

Steve es un robot NAO, un tipo de robot usado en numerosas escuelas, no sólo con niños autistas.

El hardware de los robots NAO fue desarrollado originalmente por la empresa francesa Aldebaran, que fue comprada posteriormente por Softbank Robotics Europe.

Aldebaran trabajó en su creación con desarrolladores independientes como Carl Clement, creador de la empresa Emotion Robotics, y la profesora Karen Guldberg, científica del Centro de Educación e Investigación en Autismo de la Universidad de Birmingham, en Inglaterra.

Guldberg le explicó a BBC Mundo cómo surgió la idea de usar robots NAO con niños autistas.

«Aldebaran decidió invertir en programas especiales para autismo a partir de la experiencia de una madre que había llevado a su hija autista de dos años a una feria de ciencia», dijo Guldberg.

«La madre se sorprendió al ver cómo la niña interactuaba con los robots en el stand de Aldebaran y relató al personal de la empresa que jamás había visto a su hija responder de esa manera».

Mirar a los ojos

«Sabemos por varios estudios que la tecnología en general, y los robots en particular, pueden motivar mucho a los niños autistas por diferentes razones», señaló Guldberg.

«La tecnología es predecible y eso puede ayudar a los niños autistas».

«Nunca juzgan»

Los robots tienen otras ventajas, aseguró Stephanie Shirley.

«El robot les ofrece a los niños consistencia, repite y repite todas las veces que sea necesario sin cansarse, y el aspecto mecánico es muy atractivo para los niños autistas».

Para Carl Clement, uno de los desarrolladores originales del software de los robots NAO, «algo muy bueno de estos robots es que nunca juzgan«.

«Si un niño se equivoca, a NAO no le importa y eso ayuda a que el niño tenga más confianza apara experimentar con diferentes formas de interacción social sin sentirse desalentado», señaló.

«Por otra parte, aprender con una tableta o computadora normal puede ser una actividad muy solitaria. Pero con los robots NAO podemos alentar a los niños autistas a trabajar en pequeños grupos y colaborar«.

Algo fundamental es recordar que «los robots no sustituyen a los maestros«, señaló Guldberg.

«Los robots son una herramienta que debe ser usada para apoyar el trabajo de los maestros y los maestros deben planear sus clases cuidadosamente para hacer el mejor uso de los robots «.

US$6.900

Clement asegura que los precios de los robots NAO han bajado considerablemente, ya que si en 2013 costaban US$14.300 en la actualidad pueden adquirirse por US$6.900 más US$1.000 por el software específico para niños autistas.

¿Por qué los robots pueden lograr algo que los adultos muchas veces no consiguen: que los niños autistas miren a los ojos?

«Los humanos se comunican usando al mismo tiempo diferentes expresiones faciales, gestos, lenguaje corporal, tono de voz», explicó Guldberg.

«Pero cuando el niño interactúa con un robot no tiene por qué enfocarse en tantas modalidades al mismo tiempo. El robot simplifica la interacción de forma que el niño sólo tiene que prestar atención a las palabras o algún movimiento».

El robot da a los niños más tiempo para procesar la información, «algo que los adultos muchas veces no hacen». Y el lenguaje y la construcción de oraciones es más simple.

Esta entrada fue publicada en AUTISMO, INVESTIGACION. Guarda el enlace permanente.

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