By Michelle Zhu
LUGOFF, SC (WACH)–According to state education officials, the number of S.C. students diagnosed with autism has doubled from 4,000 in 2011 to 8,000 in 2017. Traditional teaching methods don’t always reach those students, but a school in the Midlands has a new tool making a difference.
Carrie Watson has two sons coping with autism. She says communication hasn’t always been easy. But a new robot called Milo is being used at their elementary school in Lugoff. Watson says it’s helped Colby and Jacob go from nonverbal to expressive.
“I’ve noticed in the past couple of weeks, especially since they brought Milo in here, he has been talking to me more, he has been telling me his needs and wants more. Colby is the same thing,” says Watson.
Right now, Kershaw County is one of fifteen school districts in South Carolina under the three-year pilot program. Thirty Milo robots were introduced last October as a way to help students with autism develop social skills. He shows more than 10 emotions and can act and dance. This all works in conjunction with scenarios played on a tablet.
Special education teacher Lynn Looney says her students have been fascinated by the new learning tool.
“They have a hard time reading people’s facial expressions and this really teaches them things like that. Milo talks at a rate that’s about 85 percent of normal. So it’s a little slower because a lot of students w autism have processing disorders,” says Looney.
It’s an invention Watson hopes will continue in special education classrooms for years to come.
“When you have a child who talks and then they stop, for them to come back and actually talk to you, there’s no greater thing. That in itself, you yearn for your children to talk to you and when you don’t have that and something like this can bring them out of their shell, there’s no greater joy,” says Watson.