By Fred Margolin
In Endrew v. Douglas County, a case decided this March by the United States Supreme Court, the justices found that school districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, “appropriately ambitious” progress. With new research finding that 1 in 45 children ages 3 to 17 has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schools across the country have a duty to provide their students with the inclusive, tailored ASD support mandated by law and ethical standards.
Immediate Engagement + Infinite Patience = Life-Changing Lessons
Children with ASD often find interactions with teachers and therapists stressful, so they become resistant to learning sessions. Research from the University of Texas at Dallas Callier Center has shown that children with ASD engage with their teachers and therapists 3% of the time. By contrast, they engage with our humanoid robot, Milo, 87% of the time.
Milo is 2 ½ feet tall and looks like a child. The Robots4Autism curriculum that he delivers integrates a variety of evidence-based practices in 130 lessons and 1500 video vignettes. He speaks in a measured tone, 82% slower than normal speech, to allow all students to follow what he says. With an expressive face and moving arms and legs, he complements his verbal abilities with clear body language. As another layer of support, when he talks and interacts, symbols simultaneously appear on his chest video display.
As a robot, Milo is endlessly patient. When a student’s response is incorrect, Milo simply asks that student to engage in a re-teaching lesson. With the help of Milo and the right teacher or therapist, children with ASD can learn a number of essential life skills.
- Emotional Self-Regulation
The sensory overload that leads to “meltdowns” or behavioral disruptions results in a dramatic loss of instructional time. Consequently, all students in the class can lag behind their grade level. The Robots4Austism “calm down” techniques that Milo delivers enable children to regulate their stress and anxiety. In two weeks, most students embrace what they’ve learned, and disruptions decrease dramatically. According to Elena Ghionis, lead autism specialist for Spartanburg County, “one child who previously had 53 behavioral disturbances in a two-month period had only one in a two-week period after learning self-regulation.”
- Social Interaction
Children who work with Milo learn how to understand facial expressions, identify with others, and interact socially by making eye contact, respecting another’s space, and more. As their understanding grows, so does their confidence and ability to communicate meaningfully. Parents and teachers report that children who previously didn’t initiate conversations begin saying “hello” and talking to their classmates, teachers, and family members.
- Verbal Expression:
After working with Milo, students at almost all levels on the spectrum make more attempts to use language and show expanded vocabulary.
Armed with these skills, students with ASD see a rapid increase in their ability to function in school and experience dramatic academic progress. Districts using the Robots4Autism program report that . Teaching these students benefits their families, too. Over the years, we’ve heard from parents about the challenges, the impact, and the conflict in the home, resulting in an unfortunately high divorce rate of parents with ASD children. Siblings may also be scared by constant meltdowns or suffer from lack of attention. Teaching autistic students to regulate themselves and interact with others gives the students a brighter future and makes the whole family happier.
Fred Margolin is the co-founder of RoboKind.