Robots helping to teach students with autism in West Vancouver

Click to play video: 'Technology is helping children on the autism spectrum'
Technology is helping children on the autism spectrum
WATCH: A pilot program in the West Vancouver School District has robots working with children who have autism. Catherine Urquhart has more on the promising results – Apr 13, 2017

West Vancouver public schools are enlisting a newcomer to help young students with autism.

Meet Milo, a robot designed to help students with autism learn social cues.

West Vancouver is the first school district in Canada to use the U.S.-based technology, and it’s already leased five Milos to help children like Christian Chorbajian.

Chorbajian, a gifted student, has autism, so he’s relying on a tool like Milo to help improve his social interaction abilities.

“My favourite thing about him is that he’s a robot and it’s really cool that a toy can actually do this,” Chorbajian said.

Dave Platt, an administrator with the school district, says he was sold on the program when he learned of the very real impacts Milo can have on kids with autism.

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“What sold me on the program was not just the fact that Milo is a robot, which is the draw for the kids and brings them in, but it’s extremely well-researched; it’s designed by a speech pathologist out of Texas, it incorporates best practices in terms of [autism spectrum disorder] research,” Platt said.

Milo is programmed to help students learn emotions, express empathy, self-motivate and act more appropriately in social settings.

A therapist leads sessions with the two-foot-tall robot and then helps the students practice their new skills in real situations.

Early results are impressive, according to Rebecca Vincent, one of the program’s therapists.

“What I’ve found with Milo is we’re looking at two-, three-, four-, five-minute-long lessons and their eyes are not gazing away from Milo. We also use the interactive tablets, the iPads, and they’re watching those with incredible focus and attention,” Vincent said.

RoboKind Robots, the Texas company which produces Milo, says the tool’s proven effectiveness with autistic students is at 70 per cent, compared to only three per cent for traditional therapies.

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Several more school districts in Canada are now looking at getting the robots for their classrooms.

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