'It's just amazing,' Milo the robot helps students with autism

KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) - At first glance, Milo looks like something you could buy at a toy store. But what you don't see are the lessons and intelligence that is built in to this robot. Kingsport is one of the only districts in the state to have this new tool.

Milo's main purpose is to help kids with autism learn social interaction skills. He is used every day at Washington Elementary School in Kingsport, interacting with students like Will Russell.

Doctors diagnosed Will with autism at four-years-old.

"He was nonverbal until he was about four and a half, and it's hard to envision your child being successful in life if they're not able to communicate with others and express how they feel," Will's Mom Heather Russell said.

But now, at nine-years-old, "Socially he's just come miles, he's learning more proper social interaction, how to make friends, how to have that give-and-take conversation," Russell said.

Russell said she credits much of that success to Milo.

"When I compare where he was at the beginning of the year compared to where he is now, it's amazing," Russell said.

So what, or who is Milo? Milo can tell you exactly what he is, his purpose, and the lessons he can teach. "I help students with autism connect socially with others with endless patience and ability to repeat content as often as a user needs," Milo says.

When we sat in on a lesson with Milo and Will, the lesson was about different ways to say goodbye to friends.

Milo is able to interact with the students and modify the lesson to meet the student's needs.

"To see him be able to make friends and have that two way conversation is just just everything to a parent," Russell said.

Milo is able to collect data on the student's progress that teachers can immediately see.

"To have support like that, it's just amazing to have. We've seen growth across the board," Washington Elementary teacher Billy Etter said. Etter teaches the Specialized Learning Environment- Communication and Behavior class. "Not only are we seeing progress in person, but we're seeing it in the data."

Milo measures things like response times and how much of the lesson the student engaged with.

Jacki Wolfe, Director of Special Education with Kingsport City Schools said  Milo comes with a price tag of about $10,000. After this small robot's big successes at Washington Elementary, Wolfe said they hope to get a grant for another Milo next year.

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