After KLS, a news outlet in Utah, ran a story on Milo teaching children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Piute County. RoboKind reached out to the school and caught up with Circleville Elementary’s special education teacher Kristy DeLange, who was featured in the KLS news coverage. She was joined by the Director of special education for Piute, Heidi Hansen, and Erica Cardman, a parent whose 10-year-old son, Culann Waddington, works with Milo.
Milo was introduced to their district by Mark Child, the Executive Director of Marketing at RoboKind, and has been working with over eight students, who have various mental disabilities, for a little over four months. The children have shown incredible improvement both academically and socially. For Cardman, she says that her son has even gone so far as to start a club called the Digidestined, based off the popular Japanese animation Digimon, and actively develop friendships with his peers.
“Since working with Milo, he’ll ask to stay late after school to meet with his club he put together, or he’ll ask to go over to friends’ houses,”Cardman tells RoboKind. “Something that he never really did before because he just didn’t like to go out there and be around other people.”
DeLange says that another child who has behavioral problems and struggles with understanding the difference between him and others has slowly started to develop awareness. Another student who is multi-handicap and struggles with communication now initiates conversations.
“We always knew she had a lot to say,” Hansen says, “she’s starting the conversation, and we’re not always drilling her with questions.”
During the interview, Cardman made it clear that she is a proactive parent who is constantly looking for ways to improve or help Culann succeed in life.
“I’ve looked up so many articles, there have been specials that I’ve watched on T.V.,” she explains, “ I’ve looked into therapies, what kind of activities I should be looking into. It kind of turns your world around as, ‘Hey, I have a child with autism. What can I do to do the best by him?’ I’m very much proactive, I go after whatever I need to help any of my children. The first thing I did was I got him up to Salt Lake, which was a bit of a drive, and got him fully tested at the University of Utah.”
Cardman and DeLange work as a team to ensure Culann’s academic success. They worked together to build achievable individualized education program (IEP) goals, and lessons with Milo have helped to succeed in the social development goals.
“The friend issue will affect them for their whole life, and if we can teach them those social skills through Milo, and then we reinforce it in the classroom, and at home, Culann’s going to have friends, and he’s going to be happier,” DeLange says.
“Autistic children, especially higher functioning ones like Culann, they know they’re different, and they know they don’t have friends, so they’re hurting all the time,” Hansen adds. “If we can help them be part of the school and have friends they’re going to be more successful because they have real strength academically usually and artistically, but we need to have them fit in too.”
“Including them in generalized classrooms also, the general student learns aspects of kindness and how to treat others. They also learn about diversity. I think it benefits everyone.”
So many people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle with social cues and emotional beats. Robots4Autism helps them develop the skills they need to cross the divide between autism and the rest of the world. In Piute County, Milo is having a bigger impact than just on children with autism. He is helping other students with disabilities join regular classrooms, and in turn contributes to creating a more understanding environment for all.