Robot Helps Autistic Students Bridge Communication Barriers

  • Milo Robot helping child learn emotions

    Milo helps Jokob Stauber, six-year old at the McCarthy Teszler School, learn to recognize emotions in others and regulate his own.   

    Autism specialists at the McCarthy Teszler School are flipping the stereotype of a child who’s too wrapped up in technology to talk to other people. Teachers at the school have been working with a robot named Milo to get nonverbal students with autism spectrum disorders to better communicate and identify emotions in other people.

    Milo helps the students improve their communication with teachers, family members and friends, a major milestone for many autistic children.

    Lead Autism Specialist Elena Ghionis said many of the students who have worked with the robot have an easier time interacting with devices like smartphones or iPads. “We were looking for some kind of technology which can push those kids to communicate with us and help them learn social regulation techniques,” she said.

    It’s Spartanburg School District 7′s participation in the League of Innovative Schools helped McCarthy Teszler get Milo, and McCarthy Teszler was the first school in the state to use the robot.

    Milo is used during individualized therapy sessions allowing Milo to be customized to each child’s functioning level. Thanks to the teacher-controlled programs on an iPad, Milo is predictable in the way he reacts to students. McKinney said the robot interacts with students on a level that keeps them comfortable while helping them recognize emotional cues they may not otherwise notice.

    A success story includes twin 8-year-olds at McCarthy Teszler, who began communicating after a year of working with Milo. The twins were 100 percent nonverbal, but now can talk in a limited capacity and have improved at reading and spelling.