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Understanding Family Needs: Informing the Design of Social Robots for Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities often have fewer opportunities and motivation for play, impacting their cognitive and social development. This has resulted in the development of therapies to facilitate or encourage children’s play and thus support their development. We posit social robots have the potential to support children with disabilities to play, as research has demonstrated how social robots can motivate children, increase their engagement in a task, and help facilitate social interactions. However, a challenge with both social robots and technological interventions is that families and children often struggle to adopt them into regular use, abandoning them after only a short time. As such, our approach is to begin our investigation into the requirements needed for social robots to support play by examining the needs, concerns, and barriers of the family unit as a whole – guardians, siblings, and children living with disabilities – to serve as a cornerstone for developing potential social robot interventions to support play. We conducted a study with eight family units to learn their thoughts about the barriers and requirements for a successful social robot intervention. Combining the insights gathered following our qualitative analysis with our knowledge from our literature review, we outlined recommendations and considerations needed to direct future research on how to leverage a social robot for facilitating play. This thesis gives us starting insight into understanding important factors to consider for social robots to supporting children with disabilities.


Raquel Reann Thiessen. Understanding Family Needs: Informing the Design of Social Robots for Children with Disabilities to Support Play. MSc Thesis (2023). University of Manitoba, Canada.