An opinion piece in the Dominion Post, a New Zealand newspaper, recently put forth Simon Baron-Cohen’s theory that children with autism are the result of “geeks” having children together (http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/6044577/Scientists-baffled-at-rise-in-autism). Citing a San Francisco psychologist, it was suggested that “a lot of geeks do not make eye contact… and they don’t have a lot of social understanding.” Difficulties with social skills is an integral part of autism. The author went on to say that most children with autism are a “problem” who are often dependent into their adulthood, but that some people with autism have particular talents, such as being able to multiply large numbers, draw in extreme detail, and having great visual acuity. He then suggested that somewhere in the middle are a group of people with autism who are “adept at spotting recurring patterns in large sets of data and don’t forget things,” making such individuals perfect for work in information technology and engineering. The author concludes by saying that the incidence of autism has increased greatly over the last few decades and that “older parenting accounts for some of the rise (in rates of autism).” He goes on to state that “changing diagnostic criteria and greater awareness of the condition account for more of the increase but nearly 50 percent of the rise remains unexplained.”
The benefit of using toys and robots to help teach social skills is that the toy can be programmed to respond consistently. Consistent responses help children to learn the correct behaviors more quickly. The soft, tactile nature of Auti could be appealing to some children with autism and encourage them to interact with Auti. Another good point about Auti is that it responds to touch as well as speech, so children without speech could still interact with Auti and potentially learn.