Social Skills Training for Interruption Handling

Interruptions are inevitable and can result in significant lost work, costly errors, and safety violations. We investigate whether it is possible to effectively train to improve one’s ability to handle interruptions and mitigate the disruptiveness of interruptions.

Interruption Tolerance Improves Employment Prospects for Adults with Autism

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) exhibit social skill deficits such as difficulties with reciprocal social interaction, interpersonal communication, and insistence on behavioral and environmental sameness. While research has shown the positive impact of social robots in ASD interventions [1], these interventions are primarily designed for children. Little is known about supporting social skill development in adults with ASD.

Our preliminary research highlights a significant challenge faced by adults with ASD in employment—handling workplace interruptions. The social skills deficits observed in many individuals with ASD amplify the impact of workplace distractions, unpredictability, and uncertainty.

Leveraging our previous successes in the development of socially assistive robots for ASD interventions [2], we developed the Interruption Skill Training and Assessment Robot (ISTAR), an in-home autonomous training system that helps adults with ASD to practice handling workplace-relevant interruptions [3].


Our evaluations have shown that ISTAR was warmly welcomed into users’ homes, with the training it offered being seen as highly relevant, useful, and essential. Users also experienced tangible improvements in their ability to manage workplace-related interruptions. ISTAR offers practical, real-world practice within the comfort of one’s home, fostering positive and productive behaviors. It stands as a valuable resource for adults with ASD as they seek, secure, and excel in employment opportunities.


Design Effective Training Strategies

Interruption training is a proactive strategy designed to enhance an individual’s capacity to skillfully manage and recover from interruptions. This training encompasses the provision of strategies, techniques, and cognitive tools to minimize the adverse impacts of interruptions and streamline the process of resuming tasks after an interruption. Our latest work investigates the factors that promote the generalizability of interruption training beyond specific training tasks or contexts [4]. 



[1] Scassellati, B., Admoni, H., & Matarić, M. (2012). Robots for use in autism research. Annual review of biomedical engineering, 14, 275-294.

[2] Scassellati, B., Boccanfuso, L., Huang, C. M., Mademtzi, M., Qin, M., Salomons, N., … & Shic, F. (2018). Improving social skills in children with ASD using a long-term, in-home social robot. Science Robotics, 3(21), eaat7544.

[3] Ramnauth, R., Adéníran, E., Adamson, T., Lewkowicz, M. A., Giridharan, R., Reiner, C., & Scassellati, B. (2022, March). A Social Robot for Improving Interruptions Tolerance and Employability in Adults with ASD. In 2022 17th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) (pp. 4-13). IEEE.

[4] Ramnauth, R., Adéníran, E., Georgiou, N., Salomons, N., & Scassellati, B. (Submitted 2023, August). Improving Tolerance to Interruptions Through Training. In review.