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Children with autism have a number of resources and programs at their disposal, both in and out of the classroom. However, many of these children can find access to such assistance harder to come by once they get older. Fortunately, one program located in Pensacola is striving to provide assistance specifically for older people with developmental disabilities.

Intended for seniors ages 55 and older, the ARC Gateway Senior Adult Program caters to the various needs of men and women who, according to Program Manager Janet McIndewar, live with “hearing impairment, speech impairment, autism” and a number of unspecified diagnoses, because “at the time they were growing up there were no screenings.”

The ARC Gateway Program began at the Bayview Senior Center in Pensacola, which still acts as a “home base” for most people who are a part of the program. The criterion for being at the Bayview center program, according to McIndewar, includes being able to follow instruction and being capable and independent enough to move freely throughout the building. They must also be able to interact with the public without any fear of being perceived as harmful or threatening.

“It’s kind of a high bar for them so they’re proud of it,” said McIndewar. “They’re in the community all day, they participate in the congregate meal program with the other seniors, they play Bingo; there are just so many opportunities to interact in a natural way.”

For the purpose of socialization and engagement, the residents of the ARC Gateway program would certainly benefit from additional inclusion of Milo. Developed by RoboKind for their Robots4Autism campaign, Milo is a socially advanced robot with a proven effectiveness in working with persons with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) that tops around 70 percent compared to the 3 percent success rate of traditional therapy. Not only does Milo teach children, he is also capable of leading lessons appropriate for all ages.

Missy Rogers, CEO of the ARC Gateway Program, knows funding to be the most imperative issue. While the state provides the bulk of the funding, they require that the program offer training and education for the participants, which can prove difficult for the ARC Gateway residents.

“They just want to be happy and healthy and socialize,” says Rogers, “but in order to do that, to meet both the state’s requirements, and the desires of the program’s participants it becomes very difficult.”

RoboKind’s Milo robot would be a potentially beneficial answer to such a dilemma, providing an effective means of engaging with and educating the ARC seniors, without any risk of fatigue or frustration, and a patience that encourages learners with ASD, allowing them to genuinely welcome it into their lives as part of the ARC Gateway Program.

This story was originally published at wuwf.org

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