Santa Ana, California — It was a surprise first meeting for Luke Sepulveda and his new futuristic robot friend at the Santa Ana Public Library in Southern California.
“In different spaces, you don’t know how he’s going to react,” Luke’s mother, Ella Sepulveda, told CBS News of his interaction with the robot. “So I was just hoping for the best, because he loves technology.”
Four-year-old Luke has autism spectrum disorder. His mother wants to ensure he can communicate with the world around him.
“Just knowing that a robot can engage his attention, that makes me happy,” Sepulveda said.
At the Santa Ana Public Library, robots are specially programmed, with the help of RobotLAB, to teach children with autism.
It is one of the first libraries in the nation to provide this free program that mainly supports children of color, who are often underserved and diagnosed when they are older.
“Human beings have emotions,” Larry Singer, a senior tutor at the library, and the human helper behind the robots, said. “Human beings get tired. Human beings get frustrated. A robot — same response every single time.”
“They’re not critical, they’re always comforting,” Singer adds.
About one in 36 children in the U.S. is on the spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“My hope and dream for him is really just do your best,” Sepulveda said of her son. “You’re awesome and you’re loved.”