Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have communication differences that form a barrier between them and their peers. These students also often have trouble making eye contact and greeting people appropriately. With a lack of  communication skills, some students with ASD resort to tantrums and physical violence to express their needs.

Two years ago, the Elgin ISD special education director introduced Milo, a facially expressive humanoid robot whose job it is to help students on the autism spectrum learn social skills that will free them to interact more effectively with their classmates and teachers. For instance, Abby, age 14, had difficulty talking and interacting with others, but when she works with Milo, she opens up, dances, and smiles.

When asked about Milo and the robots4autism curriculum, Abby’s father said, “It has definitely helped her interact and talk and be more vocal.”

“We have 14 students who are working with Milo,” said Dr. Shannon Darst, a special education teacher at Elgin ISD. “Milo has
a variety of programs that concentrate on different themes, like helping a person calm themselves down, greetings, turn-taking, and making choices.”

“We have students who would never make eye contact for a greeting or a leaving moment, saying hi or saying goodbye, and that’s happening now,” Dr. Darst said. “Kids who wouldn’t talk before, they’re trying to talk. One student who has pretty severe physical communication when he’s upset—with himself, other people, objects—is using the calm down skills he’s learned from Milo, like taking a deep breath. We made a laminated card for him with the calm down tools for him to put on his desk, and he’ll initiate those himself, without being reminded by a teacher.”

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