A Wooden Robot That Teaches Autistic Kids To Recognize Emotions

With a set of interchangeable heads, Build-A-Robot expresses emotions from happiness to surprise—without looking like a special-needs toy.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) contend with a range of social and behavioral setbacks, including the challenge of identifying and expressing emotions. Build-A-Robot from Plan Toys was designed to help, with four interchangeable heads that can be used to teach kids to identify and express happiness, sadness, anger, and surprise.

Laura Chun Urquiaga, a former photojournalist, designed the toy in consultation with a team of experts in ASD, ranging from occupational therapists and parents of children with ASD to researchers and teachers. In response to parent requests for a toy that didn’t look like a special-needs tool, Urquiaga settled on a robot figure that would appeal to both boys and girls, as well as children without ASD.

While the primary function is teaching kids to identify emotions, Build-A-Robot also addresses sensory issues and fine motor skills. The heads feature textures from soft felt on the top of the sad head to raised bumps on the angry head; the surprised head emits a squeak when its button is pushed. To strengthen fine motor skills, the heads attach with snap connectors; screws connect the legs to the torso, allowing the robot to sit or stand; and the arms are bendable.

Eco bonus: The toy is manufactured with organic, kiln-dried, reclaimed rubber wood, water-based dyes, and non-formaldehyde glue in a factory that is powered by biomass and solar energy. Even the packaging is made from recycled paper and soy ink.

Buy Build-A-Robot here for $35.

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  • Gwen44

    I love it!  As a parent of a child with Asperger's, a form of autism, we have devoted much time to teaching our son to understand and recognize facial expressions and emotions in others.  It truely is a teaching experience because it is just not how their brains are wired.  Imagine having a conversation with someone but their facial expressions, tone and delivery were not comprehendable.  Assessing other's is a perspective that he is and will continue to learn.  Thanks for the cool tool that on so many levels is really thoughtful and well targeted for an autistic child.

  • Brent

    "Helps children with autism recognize emotions" would be a much softer title.  Not to to be picky, but I found the title rather off-putting.

    Good read.

  • Cansin2

    I have some questions: Is this robot the first invention in its kind?On the other hand,  do you think that the different shape of the heads is perplexing for the ASD patients.