Edinburg CISD Brings First Autism-Friendly Robot To South Texas

With a squint of his eyes and raise of its arms and hands, “Milo” the robot said hello to a crowd of people in its first public appearance at the Edinburg School District offices.
“Children engage with me and call me their friend. I extend the efforts of teachers by delivering perfect lessons every time,” Milo said at the event to show off his abilities. “I can deliver lessons repeatedly and without frustration in my voice. I have a great range of expressions: scared, victory, angry. Have an awesome day.”
“The lessons are already programmed, and the kids can work with Milo and the iPad,” Dr. Rene Gutierrez, ECISD Superintendent, explained. “They’re engaged with whatever feelings, emotions and expressions that he can do and do them over and over again. This captivates their attention. It’s just another tool to address autistic kids at Edinburg CISD to help them address their social and emotion skills.”
Gutierrez explained that six of the robots will be used in six elementary campuses. Teachers will be trained on how to use and work with Milo this month and start using Milo in the classroom in May. There are approximately 40 autistic children at the elementary level at Edinburg CISD.
The Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District is the first school district in the Rio Grande Valley to launch RoboKind’s robots4autism program, which uses “Milo,” a facially expressive social robot, in combination with a curriculum to teach social behaviors and emotional identification to children with autism.
Edinburg CISD’s participation will also mark the largest implementation of the program in the state.
At two-feet tall, Milo models human facial expressions, turns his head, moves his arms, and even walks. Students interact either in groups or one-on-one with Milo, who delivers lessons verbally while displaying symbols on his chest to reinforce learning. Students also watch situational videos on a tablet and answer questions from Milo about what they see in the videos.
The robots4autism curriculum targets improvement in behavior, emotional understanding, vocabulary, and interaction skills. Specifically, it teaches students how to calm themselves when they experience over-stimulation, how to greet and interact with others, and how to take turns when engaging in conversation.
RoboKind Regional Sales Manager Gwynn Gunter said, “Milo can deliver the same lesson over and over again without getting tired or exasperated. One of the lessons of autism therapy is that some autistic children can only learn when a lesson is repeated ten, 20 or even 30 times.”
She added that Milo can read eye contact from the child and other data from each interaction and use that for future use when interacting with the child. It provides information on learning and progress for teachers and therapists to use in future lessons and instruction.
Gutierrez explained that Milo’s lessons will focus on teaching autistic children calm down techniques that Milo models and students will have time to practice. Student will able to use those lessons in the home and with their friends out in public.
“Milo will enhance what is going on in the classroom. The kids are digital natives, so it’s easy for them to connect with Milo,” Gutierrez said. No teachers will be replaced by the robot.
Gunter related a story where Milo was introduced for the first time at another district in front of board members, administrators, teachers and students. When Milo was presented, the robot said, “Hello, I’m Milo,” to the group. An autistic student standing at the front of the group responded, “Hello, I’m Noah!” It was the first time Noah had responded directly to anyone at the campus. When Noah went home, he repeated to his mother, “Hello, I’m Noah.” It was the first time that he had spoken directly to her, as well.
“This is something that we had not seen before” Gutierrez added. “There’s a lot of software that can be used with an iPad or a computer. However, this is different because the students can physically interact with the robot and have a direct connection with Milo. It was something just very innovative and creative. We felt that this was the next step for us to do to help our students and assist the teachers. We may do a summer project as well with Milo.”
According to Gunter, Milo has been in development for approximately five years and various iterations of the model had been in classrooms for the past three years. Milo’s unique looks are based on Japanese anime, which many kids are quite familiar and comfortable with. The name was selected by students at one of the early test sites.
While Milo is not bilingual, Gunter explained that he speaks at an 80% pace of normal speech, which is a great beånefit for English language learners as well. Milo and its curriculum and software cost $10,000 per robot. The six campuses selected to use Milo are Crawford, Eisenhower, Flores-Zapata, Jefferson, LBJ and Ramirez.

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