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The School District of Manatee County, located in Bradenton, Florida, is the first in the state to adopt RoboKind’s robots4autism program, combined with a social-emotional curriculum, for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The district of approximately 49,500 students in grades pre-K–12 serves 741 students with ASD. The robots4autism program uses Milo, a facially expressive social robot, in combination with a curriculum to teach social behaviors and emotional identification to children with ASD. The robot is designed to support educators and specialists in their work with children on the autism spectrum.

“We’re very enthusiastic about the implementation of Milo and our partnership with RoboKind,” said Wylene Herring-Cayasso, the School District of Manatee County’s Director of Exceptional Student Education and Student Services’ “Milo has afforded our students with Autism resources to acquire necessary nonverbal, verbal, and social skills. Milo’s individualized visual and verbal supports have been essential to strengthening our students’ communication competencies.”

The district has three Milo robots that are used by four teachers. Jocelyn Cherry, the district’s exceptional student education curriculum specialist, explained, “Milo is used daily in our district, and students work with him on a rotating schedule. One educator utilizes Milo to support students learning social skills in a small group setting, and another educator utilizes Milo with her 3- to 4-year-old students with ASD on an individual one to one basis”

Milo models human facial expressions, turns his head, moves his arms, and even walks. Students interact either in groups or one-on-one with Milo, who delivers lessons verbally while displaying symbols on his chest to reinforce learning. Students also watch situational videos on a tablet and answer questions from Milo about what they see in the videos.

“Milo is a great addition to our class,” said Olga Ramirez, a pre-K ASD classroom teacher at Abel Elementary. “Even our nonverbal students who cannot yet use him properly have a great interest in him. They smile and try to interact with Milo, which is great for their social skills. All my students have benefited in some way from Milo being in our classroom.”

Larissa Scott, teacher of students with ASD at Blackburn Elementary concurs adding; “I’ve already noticed a difference in some of my students.  They are starting to use their words more to ask for a break or to tell me that they need to calm down.”

The robots4autism curriculum targets improvement in behavior, emotional understanding, vocabulary, and interaction skills. Specifically, it teaches students how to calm themselves when they experience over-stimulation, how to greet and interact with others, and how to take turns when engaging in conversation.

Vivian L. James, and primary ASD teacher at Abel Elementary School, commented, “Since my students’ initial interaction with Milo, they have grown more comfortable and competent with the program. The lesson process has been intuitive for them, as many of them are adept with touchscreen technology and using audiovisual cues to understand inquiries and engage in problem-solving.”

In addition to students with ASD, students with other social or emotional diagnoses can use the robots4autism program. Overall student progression is recorded for development purposes through a dedicated web portal. The robots4autism program has a proven effectiveness of 70% with learners on the spectrum.

“All my students LOVE Milo,” exclaimed Alison Reamer, an ASD teacher at Abel Elementary. “Some of my lower-level students who have a hard time interacting with adults and peers thrive when interacting with the robot. He’s a great tool to help practice emotions and other skills. My high-functioning students also enjoy working through the lessons and interacting with him.”

During recent parent-teacher conferences, ASD educators shared anecdotes with parents about the growth they have seen in their child’s willingness and ability to engage with people in ways they had not seen before. Manatee County educators are confident that, as students progress through the robots4autism curriculum, they will continue to demonstrate exponential growth in social and emotional development, which in turn leads to greater student achievement.

Milo’s creator RoboKind currently offers two programs: robots4autism as discussed above, and robots4stem, in which students complete a fundamental coding curriculum and learn to program a humanoid robot. With each program, RoboKind provides the applicable robot, curriculum training, support materials, and the appropriate curriculum with data analytics. The programs are currently being used as cost-effective and inclusive education tools in a total of 290 school districts in 27 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. The company is working on several statewide initiatives in South Carolina, Alaska, Georgia, Texas, and Wisconsin.

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