South Carolina children with autism say classroom robot is too cool


Robots are taking over classrooms across the U.S.

“He’s (Milo) one hundred times one million percent cool,” third-grade student Malachi McCarty told Fox News. 

In October, South Carolina teachers at select schools began using the Robots4Autism curriculum and a small robot named Milo to teach students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“So many kids these days are into electronics and things like that and Milo can be so much more patient than parents,” Serena Haire told Fox News.

About one in 68 eight-year-olds were identified with ASD since 2012, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result, the Texas-based company RoboKind created Milo to teach students in elementary and middle school how to understand emotions and expressions.

Milo demonstrates appropriate social behavior and responses to students by walking, moving his arms and using a full range of facial muscles to emulate emotions. By interacting with the humanoid, the students learn how to tune in on emotions, express empathy, and act appropriately during social situations.

“Milo is a great resource for our special kids and he gives an opportunity for them that they might not have otherwise to build those communication skills and those social skills to help them be the best they can be,” Haire said.

Students interact with Milo and a facilitator for an hour a week for up to three years. During each session, the facilitatorcan only meet with one student at a time. She or he then uses an iPad to choose one of more than a hundred lessons that incorporate audio, visual and kinesthetic learning. 

“I sit behind but beside the student with my I-pad… So Milo may ask them questions like, “what is your name?.” If they answer correctly, then on my tablet I can choose they answered correctly, (or) they did not answer correctly…then Milo will prompt them the right way to answer. Or he will remind them of a video we just watched (on) how to answer questions,” Allison Thomlinson told Fox News. 

The humanoid then collects data from each lesson and provides the information to facilitators and parents for review.

“My son loves iPads and anything electronic, in that aspect Milo is kind of an iPad. He just looks like a person and he reacts better to Milo than he does to his therapist or Mom and Dad sometimes,” Haire said. 

Parents and teachers and agree, Milo offers a very unique form of therapy.  

“Generally a child with a therapist will be attentive with that therapist maybe 12-15 percent of the time of the session. Typically children are engaged with Milo 80 percent of the time…. So, we are seeing a lot more attention being paid to Milo,” Thomlinson said.

As a robot, Milo never gets frustrated or tired and is unable to lose patience with the students. 

“They have to have one hundred percent accuracy, three times. So once they reach 100 percent accuracy all three times, then we move to the next lesson,” Thomlinson said. 

Administrators with Palmetto Elementary School say their goal is to have their students with autism continue interacting with Milo and learn the skills needed to integrate back into the classroom.

Terace Garnier is a Fox News multimedia reporter based in Columbia, South Carolina. Follow her on twitter: @TeraceGarnier

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