During their Oct. 24 workshop, the Hernando County School Board was provided with a presentation on the Dallas, Texas-based RoboKind curriculum. The program is aimed at assisting children on the autism spectrum, utilizing a two-foot-tall robot named Milo to deliver the curriculum. The curriculum also includes presentations through Milo avatars. Milo, as described by company representative Chris Shaw, is a “stepping stone to get kids to deal with humans.” The robot is designed with human-like skin and the ability to model human facial expressions. It can sing, dance, walk, and talk, making it a unique tool for delivering a case-endorsed social skills curriculum in the United States.
Anna Jensen, the Director of Exceptional Student Education, made a compelling case for the program before the Board, highlighting the pressing need for such initiatives.
Shockingly, statistics indicate that 1 in 36 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder, with the condition being four times more common in boys than in girls. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder often exhibit strengths in understanding the physical world but struggle to grasp the intricacies of the social world. Children living with autism tend to be more responsive to feedback, even social feedback when administered by technology rather than humans. Their interest in treatment is notably higher when it involves robotic or electronic components, according to RoboKind representatives.
The efficacy of the Milo program was evident in a study conducted by the state of South Carolina, which revealed that 29 percent of students who completed the curriculum were able to transition back to general education.
Following the workshop, a vote was held during the School Board’s regular meeting to authorize the issue of a purchase order (PO) in the amount of $100,000 for the RoboKind program. While all board members were solidly in favor of the purchase, board members Mark Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez expressed their concerns over what they said was a recent trend of last-minute agenda entries for voting on expenditures. They emphasized the need for the public to have time to fully understand what the money was being used for.
Mark Johnson expressed support for the program but raised concerns about the last-minute nature of the vote. He argued that there should be more time for research before making such significant financial decisions.
Funding for the RoboKind program passed with a unanimous 5-0 vote, paving the way for the initiative to move forward.