By Richard Brooke
My wife and I were very lucky to adopt four amazing children from China, each about 18 months apart from each other in age, and each special in their own way. But our youngest son, Brogan, brought an entirely different challenge to the table.
It can be hard to tell if a child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at an early age. You start noticing little things that seem out of place or “different” than other children. A few indications could be: lack of expressions by six months, no back-and-forth gestures (like pointing or reaching) by 12 months, and no words by 16 months. We noticed Brogan was hand-shy and would pull away when we first adopted him in China. If you moved quickly, he would flinch and pull back. It was evident from the scarring on his forehead and missing front teeth that he had been abused at the orphanage, probably because he could be difficult and hard to manage. He could be manic, and he would flap his arms like a bird, twist his hands, pull his hair, and he would not make eye contact. He was different than our other children.
When it came time for school, that brought its own unique challenges and pain. It was heart-wrenching to have my beautiful son come home and say, “Why doesn’t anyone like me? Why does everyone think I am weird? Why doesn’t anyone want to invite me to birthday parties or be my friend?” At age six, he was diagnosed with ASD. The doctors said he was on the high part of the functioning side of the spectrum. We were told to focus on consistency and avoid changes that would upset his standard balance and flow, and above all else, to be patient. That being said, it was paramount for us to learn different strategies to make his days a little more manageable.
My wife and I know that there is no such thing as a perfect adoption, and each child will have issues and need special love and support. When Brogan arrived, it was really frustrating to see him struggle so much. Often times, those with ASD will not ask for help. My son wouldn’t raise his voice or say anything, and could easily disappear in school, scouts, or sports if we were not careful. It takes so much time, patience, energy, and love to support those with ASD because they are wired differently. For instance, when it is time for homework at our house, it can be so easy to get impatient because I find myself repeating things over and over again, and it is just human to get frustrated and tired. Patience is the key with our son as it is with most kids on the spectrum.
What Brought Me to Robots4Autism
After meeting with Dr. Greg Firn at RoboKind, I knew that this is where I needed to be. My decision to work with Robots4Autism was fueled by my desire to help children with ASD and their families, and provide answers and assistance to uncover the personal genius in each learner. Since working at RoboKind, I have realized that my passion truly lies in making it easier for teachers to teach, students to learn, and parents to be involved. Selling in education is a calling. It is not easy, but the rewards are tremendous.
When I saw a video of Milo, I watched children truly engage with him. There is a dire need for encouraging kids with autism to develop their social, emotional, and behavioral skills and move forward. The people I work with understand the struggles ASD learners, families, and teachers experience. I empathize with them and share their passion to make a difference. I connect them with tools that set up the next generation with ASD for great success. It’s evident that these tools work, too. Research from the University of Texas at Dallas Callier Center discovered that students had engaged with Milo 87% of the time, compared to 3% of the time with therapists and teachers.
Hope for the Future
Brogan is 11 now and doing awesome. He’s in 5th grade, loves to play basketball, run, and go to birthday parties, sleepovers, and Boy Scouts. He makes great grades—A’s and B’s—and my other children help guide and protect him through everyday challenges. For children like Brogan, Milo is an innovative tool that can provide much-needed support in learning environments. Milo listens, speaks a little slower than humans do, is infinitely more patient than anyone, and has proven to help students stay engaged. Not every solution will be a fix for every kid, but the more support we can offer them, the better. Through therapy, medication, sports, scouts, and family, Brogan has been able to blossom. We have to really empathize with the child’s issues in each case. Those who have ASD do not understand all of their emotions, but they do feel them.
Richard Brooke is a regional sales manager at RoboKind.