By ARIEL GILREATH, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Student Parker Egbert danced with Greenwood County School District 50 board members Monday night while demonstrating Milo — a robot sent to the district for the Robots4Autism pilot program the state is debuting this year.
The program uses Milo, an expressive, human-like robot, to capture the attention of students with autism to increase engagement during Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy.
Milo goes through lesson plans geared at assisting therapists and teachers during ABA therapy with curriculum based on social and emotional support.
Parker, 14, is a student in District 50 with autism who attended the first parent meeting about the program with his mom, Laura Egbert, last week.
“We were kind of sitting there and they were talking and (Parker had) no interest at all, and they turned it on, and it was like, ‘Can you blink your eyes?’ And he was blinking,” Egbert said. “He was doing everything Milo was asking.”
Egbert compared it to a “robotic iPad,” and said Parker becomes highly engaged with his iPad often.
“He was messing with the iPad and they turned Milo on,” Egbert said of the first meeting. “It was just amazing.”
Studies done by RoboKind, the creator of Milo, found that children with autism are typically engaged about 3 percent of the time — with Milo, that number jumps anywhere from 18 to 85 percent of the time.
Parker, who recently starred in the Penguin Project’s “Annie Jr.” last month, was nonverbal until age 6.
Egbert said she was skeptical of Milo at first because she thought it was for younger children, but after watching Parker engage with it, she’s excited about what it can do for people with autism.
“Anything you can do in addition to what we’re doing currently for all these kids is just gonna help them in the future,” Egbert said.
Egbert said people with autism typically don’t like to look at people, but love technology.
“Everything the robot said, he was doing. And all of us were just kind of sitting there for this meeting,” Egbert said. “And we’re looking over like, ‘Holy cow, this child’s doing everything.’”
Amy Hildenbrand, director of special education in the district, told board members Milo is used with people ages 3 to 21, and there are students with autism in every school in the district.
“We have seen great success with middle school,” Hildenbrand said.
The district was the one of 15 in the state to receive Milo from the state Department of Education, and the only one to receive two Milos.
The program will start with 17 students per Milo later this fall.