Dawson agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all ASD therapy. "Any therapy for a person with an ASD has to be individualized," she said. The idea with any technology, she added, is to give therapists and doctors extra "tools" to work with.
A separate study presented at the same meeting looked at another type of tool. Researchers had 60 "minimally verbal" children with ASDs attend two "play-based" sessions per week, aimed at boosting their ability to speak and gesture. Half of the kids were also given a "speech-generating device," like an iPad.
Three and six months later, children who worked with the devices were able to say more words and were quicker to take up conversational skills.
Dawson said the robot and iPad studies are just part of the growing body of research into how technology can not only aid in ASD therapies, but also help doctors diagnose the disorders or help parents manage at home.
But both Diehl and Dawson stressed that no robot or iPad is intended to stand in for human connection. The idea, after all, is to enhance kids' ability to communicate and have relationships, Dawson noted. "Technology will never take the place of people," she said.
The data and conclusions of research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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