In 2008, Dr. Takanori Shibata, the creator of a socially intelligent robot named PARO, first consulted the Boston Higashi School. Resembling a harp seal, PARO was designed to be a companion for individuals with chronic illnesses, like dementia. However, when Dr. Shibata brought this robot to the Boston Higashi School, it became evident that the robot could also be used for facilitating social interaction between children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, who struggle with navigating complex social situations.
As a result, Dr. Shibata and the Boston Higashi School conducted a study with twenty-four participants to test their hypothesis. At no surprise, the findings of this study indicate that the opportunity to play with the PARO robot in mixed-group settings actually can reduce stereotypical and sensory-seeking behaviors and increase socially interactive and representational play. Additionally, a student with a marked fear of animals showed reduced fear behavior over the course of the 10-week study.
This research has been presented at the Autism Society of America's annual conference in Indianapolis, IN in 2014, and most notably, at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in Donostia, Spain in 2013.