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Robots Provide Social Skills Lessons to Autistic Students
2018-12-31 10:35:56
Althusser Wright

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Photo by: Maria Dubova via 123rf

The South Carolina Department of Education bought one-foot tall robots and the accompanying literature from RoboKind, an educational technology company based in Dallas.The doll-like robots will be used to teach social skill lessons to autistic children from 13 school districts in the state.

To test the program over three years, the department foresees that it would spend between $250,000 and $300,000.Education officials in the state are hoping that children will speak to Milo, the educational robot sold under the brand Robots4Autism, even if the autistic kids do not speak to humans or even their parents, Molly Spearman, the South Carolina education superintendent, said.

Fantastic tool

Spearman described the robots – which will be disseminated to Anderson, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Florence, Greenwood, Horry, Kershaw, Marion, Orangeburg, Pickens, Richland One, Spartanburg, and Sumter – as a fantastic tool that the state will place in the hands of therapists and teachers in South Carolina, Post and Courier reported.

But it is a tool and not a replacement for human teachers.Although Milo is programmed to talk slower than the average teacher and can walk, dance, and engage in a simple conversation with students similar to how the Siri app on iPhones run, Milo will not operate without a teacher or therapist around.

“You’re not sitting a child in front of a robot and letting them go,” Lisa Rayford, an Education Department associate who is an expert in services for students with autism, said.

Imitating body movements

Previous studies have proven how effective robots are in reaching out to students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – a range of developmental characteristics that can lead to difficulty in interpreting cures, an intense focus on narrow interests, repetitive behavior, and difficulty speaking.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children has been diagnosed with ASD.Due to advances in diagnosis, the number of kids being diagnosed with the disorder is going up.

In 2007, the Autonomous Robots journal published an exploratory study made by Canadian researchers that looked into four students with autism.The scientists discovered that autistic kids were less likely to imitate body movements performed by a human mediator.However, they are more likely to imitate facial expressions such as a smile from a robotic mediator.

Since last week, South Carolina educational officials have been training local educators via the Robots4Autism initiative.According to Madelina Jacobs, the assistant executive director of Exceptional Children, she hopes to use the robots for social and emotional training of kids with autism.

While robots can be a little creepy if their number is large, because education is evolving, society has to change what we are doing as adults to meet the needs of children with autism.

School withdraws scholarship participation

Meanwhile, the Monarch School, a private school that teaches children with autism, has temporarily lost its state funding after it missed the re-enrollment deadline.Aug. 2 was its deadline to get funding for the McKay Scholarship students in Florida this quarter after the school officials voluntarily backed out from the scholarship participation in June.

Randy Coggins, the school administrator, did not fill out the required paperwork, parents of the 60 to 70 students who attend Monarch School were told.The parents received the McKay Scholarships for students with disabilities and then signed over the money to the school.

Photo by: Olesia Bilkei via Shutterstock

Parents had to scramble and look for schools in only a few days that will accept their autistic children, The Ledger reported.It wasn't just the students who were left hanging because of the apparent neglect of Coggins.Since the school started, eight teachers have not yet received a paycheck.

History of financial problems

Sandy, the wife of Coggins, after he withdrew from the scholarship participation, registered Monarch School – which has a history of financial problems -- as AAA Monarch and requested the new institution to be approved to take part in the McKay program.But the school, as of Wednesday, has not yet submitted the required documentation, according to Audrey Waldon, a spokeswoman with South Carolina.

Waldon said that the state has informed the school that the deadline for the second quarter scholarship program was on October 2.If the school failed to meet the necessary documentation to join the program and be deemed eligible, the families, nevertheless, will not receive any scholarship payments.

In Walled Lake, Michigan, the mother of an autistic boy who was screaming as he alighted from the school bus of the Walnut Creek Middle School on Tuesday sought to see the video recorded on the bus because the boy is non-verbal.The family went to urgent care twice.The school cited student privacy laws as the reason why it could not release the video to the family until the parents signed off.It added the video can be released in cases involving life and death; however, the call would come from a doctor treating the student and not the parents of the autistic child, WXYZ.com reported.

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