Natchitoches first district to use robot for autistic learners

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By Hannah Richardson, lifestyleeditor@natchitochestimes.com

Milo is here!

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The Milo robots were announced to arrive in Natchitoches Parish earlier this year, and thanks to a donation, three have made their way to the Natchitoches Parish School Board media center. The Natchitoches Parish School System is the first in the state to have the program. Milo, created by Robokind in Dallas, is a robot that can make humanoid expressions and engages children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). According to autismspeaks.org, as of April 26, a study found 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) have ASD, a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. According to robokind.com, Milo has proven effective with learners with ASD over 80 percent, opposed to the 3 percent for traditional therapy.

Milo is demonstrated in front of a group of educators at the Media Center.

These learners are taught through the robots4autism curriculum, designed to facilitate reciprocal interaction, shared understanding and emotions with modules and activities. The student is taught through two tablets, one for them and one for the observing facilitator. Robots4autism is the first educational curriculum to pair evidence-based practices and technology-aided instruction to help learners with ASD to improve social skills. Some modules included focus on how to calm, greet and interact with others, conversation dynamics and understanding emotions such as happy, sad and angry, and even complicated emotions such as hurt, tired, excited, scared, surprised and worried.

A training presentation for parish speech/language pathologists and visitors from Lafayette, Alexandria and Baton Rouge assistive technology centers was at the media center Friday, Aug. 24. At the session, they interacted with Milo and learned the ins and outs of the program, from handling the robots to understanding how he reads facial expressions and returns them to working the modules via tablet. “I think this innovative technology will lift our children into the future,” said Ed. Diagnostician/Child Search Coordinator Emilyn Horton. “This year we will begin with the pathologists implementing the program during their therapy sessions with small groups of students,” said Toni Bennett, director of the NPSB special education department. “We have determined the schools where the most urgent need is and the robots will be housed there first.

As the program develops and we have a good implementation plan, the robots will be scheduled into all the schools on a rotation basis.” The program for using the Milo robots will be supervised through the special education department.

The parish will use Milo for the next three years and the contract will be up for renewal at the end of those three years.