Therapy Robot Play: a new paradigm for child social-emotional development

The Faculty of Education at Monash is marking a significant new development in the direction of Australian research for the emerging place and space for robotics technologies for children’s play.

Adopting a socially-just and community-based approach, Dr Sarika Kewalramani and Dr Kelly-Ann Allen from the Faculty of Education, Peninsula campus and Professor Sivanes Phillipson from Swinburne University of Technology, have partnered with Brotherhood of St Lawrence Early Childhood Early Intervention community service provider (Bayside/Peninsula region) to advocate a research vision for inclusion and equity for children with disabilities/developmental delay and provide relief for their families. The project will explore the use of therapy robot play in enhancing children’s social and emotional development, especially for young children with disabilities/developmental delay.

In 2020, together with STEM Incubators, a not-for-profit community organisation affiliated with Kingston City Council, the Therapy Robots intervention research program commenced as a self-funded online program. Disadvantaged families and children with diverse needs participated and the findings of the program can be viewed here.

This year, the intervention program and curricula will integrate Therapy Robots for children with diverse additional needs. Using learnings from 2020 pilot project, the program is now being co-designed and co-implemented, specifically to investigate the social-emotional development of children with disabilities/developmental delay.

This university-industry partnership and together with the Brotherhood of St Lawrence Early Childhood Early Intervention provider will support the project’s engagement with industry and community stakeholders to ensure better enabled sustained impact. The program using therapy robots will also lead to capacity building of those involved including community disability intervention providers, early childhood interventions and allied health professionals, and parents/carers.

Funding proposals for seeking support from philanthropic organisations and the local government are under way for this first ever therapy robot play-based intervention research program that will address the social and economic burdens on families, education and health sectors.