By: Jason Whitely

Dallas ISD elementary students with autism are seeing an increase in social skills, thanks to a robot named Milo.

DALLAS – A two-foot tall robot named Milo is successfully teaching lessons to students on the Autism spectrum at Gooch Elementary in Dallas ISD.

“People are hard for kids on the spectrum. They can’t make eye contact. They can’t follow language. So, Milo is approachable. He’s two-feet tall. He speaks 20-percent slower than a normal person. He delivers the same lesson over, and over again with the same inflection,” said Soraya Gollop, Ph.D., the community liaison at Gooch Elementary.

The robot, created by Dallas-based Robokind, is currently teaching social skills, how to have conversations and interact with each other.

Rene Cowles’ son, Max, started using Milo about a month ago.

“The difference at home that we’re seeing is him interacting with us and his brother. We’re seeing an increase in expressive language. We’re seeing an increase in social behavior,” Cowles explained.

Already, Max, who is on the spectrum, is more verbal, smiles more often, and raises his hand in class to participate, she said.

“The difference between a human and a robot is that a robot doesn’t get impatient, doesn’t have any place to go, isn’t rushing through anything. And just keeps working on progress,” Cowles added.

This campus, one of 155 elementary schools in Dallas ISD, is unique because it has such a large population of special needs students. About one in five children here have special needs.

The school hoped it would connect with kids like Max but did not expect fewer disruptions and more engagement to come within the first five weeks.

“The smiles,” said Kim Ashmore, principal. “The engagement in the classroom, the back-and-forth conversations have just increased. It’s amazing to see the improvement with the students.”

“We haven’t changed anything else. We have literally changed nothing else. This is as close to a controlled experiment as you can get in this type of thing,” said Gollop.

Students use a tablet computer and respond to prompts and instruction from Milo.

But he is not replacing teachers.

“Robots cannot replace teachers. Robots – Milo in particular – is an amazing tool. And he’s a tool who allows us to leverage the manpower that we have but Milo doesn’t work alone,” Gollop explained.

It is encouraging technology but it’s also expensive. Milo costs about $10,000 including the software, Gollop said.

The current caseload for Milo is about 15-16 students each week, the principal said, but there are 31 students at Gooch Elementary on the spectrum. So, the school is trying to raise money to get a second robot.

The principal said she hopes to start using new software to let Milo teach math and science, as well.

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