Robot teaches emotional, communication skills during autism therapy in schools

A robot designed to lead therapy sessions in clinics and schools for children with autism spectrum disorder is helping young people with autism to learn social, emotional and communication skills, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Milo is developed by RoboKind, a robotics company that creates robots for children with autism. Designed to resemble "a real little boy," Milo's face can move in humanlike ways to depict emotion. He also wears a small screen on his chest, which illustrates icons that help reinforce concepts taught in lessons, including how to recognize emotions such as hurt or anger in other people, according to the WSJ.

South Carolina launched a pilot program two years ago to add Milo, or his female version Robon, to 15 of the state's school districts. Students ages 3 to 14 use the robot two to three times each week for 15 to 20-minute sessions. A teacher or therapist is always present to help the student with the therapy.

Since implementing Milo, 90 percent of the students who work with the robot have mastered its lessons and have applied the knowledge to their interactions with other people, Lisa Raiford, education associate for autism at the South Carolina state's education department, told the WSJ.

Some benefits of using robots in therapies for children with autism include enhanced eye contact, turn-taking, sharing and perspective-taking, according to the report. However, more research needs to be done to see if the use of robots in therapy will be effective in the long term, said Brian Scassellati, a professor of computer science and mechanical engineering at New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University, according to the report.

Milo costs $12,000, plus $3,759 a year for updated software curriculum. The robot is sold exclusively to schools.

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