THE first robot designed to assist people with autism is now in Malaysia.
Dubbed Leka, the wide-eyed glowing orb is a smart toy that could revolutionise how parents, therapists, and children cope with autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disorder that affects one in 68 children here.
Leka has been brought here by Animals for Young in conjunction with World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) on April 2 and embodies this year’s United Nation’s tagline for WAAD – “Assistive Technologies, Active Participation”.
Leka plays games with children, teaches them autonomy and cultivates emotional intelligence – all skills young ones with autism tend to lack.
“While there has been a lot of innovation regarding smart toys that can aid in cognitive development, none of these toys are available for public use and cost anywhere from RM20,000 to RM50,000,” said Animals for Young founder Dr E. Joon Khew, who also brought Leka into Malaysia.
“If you look at therapy/intervention programmes, we are seeing centres which are charging from RM5,000 to RM20,000 per month. Leka, on the other hand, costs only RM8,000, with application and programmes provided for teachers, caretakers or even parents to use,” he said.
With its different colours, vibrations and cute face, Leka may look like a fun everyday toy but it is much more than that.
It is a multisensory smart toy set, developed for those with autism or other developmental disorders. It is meant to help its users play, interact, learn and enrich their lives.
Too often, autistic children must rely on parents and caregivers for simple tasks like getting dressed or playing with friends. Leka could help children gradually learn those basic skills, without the pressure put on parents to stay patient.
The added smartphone integration of Leka allows parents and therapists to track a child’s progress with certain games and activities. It can serve as a tool, not just a toy.
“It is an overwhelming experience to see children use Leka. We see their faces light up in a way that’s so different from their interactions with humans and it is truly amazing,” said Khew.
“Leka was meant to help exceptional children live the exceptional lives they deserve. We want to reduce the learning inequalities that so many children with developmental disorders face on a daily basis and we think Leka, as a communication intermediary, is capable of doing just that.
“Here at Animals for Young, we are already incorporating Leka into our programme and we even develop a 1:1 session for children who need that extra attention,” added Khew.
“Through Leka, we will also educate the public about autism, and create an environment in which people are more understanding and thoughtful towards people with autism and developmental disorders.”
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