March 29, 2023

OKATIE, S.C. (WSAV) — Beaufort County Schools have seen the number of autistic students rise by 26% in just the last two years.

Technology can capture the attention of those students almost instantly. Which is why the district is using a robot and a new camp to improve students’ learning skills and more.

“Technology really seems to be a good way for them to access information,” says Dr. Lisa Kershaw of Robokind. “They seem to enjoy it, it captures their attention it engages them.”

That’s why students at “Camp Blast” at Okatie Elementary School are learning from and connecting with a new friend, Robokind.

Milo the robot is designed to be interesting and approachable for autistic learners. He can walk, talk, and even model human facial expressions, helping learners improve their social and behavioral skills and gain the confidence they need to succeed academically and socially.

On this day he helped one student work on mirroring hand, arm and face movements and then later talked with another about what to do at a birthday party.

“Birthday parties can be a lot of fun.. but they can be different,” explained the robot.

This tech tool keeps students engaged so teachers can improve their learning experience.

“It’s really kind of refreshing to walk into the room today and see all the cooperative learning groups,” said Dr. Juliet White, Beaufort County Schools Student Services Officer. “It’s because they are accustomed to that routine and keep them channeled and help them meet their needs as well.”

“The robot works and then the kid will model that,” says Ginger Abbott, Beaufort County Schools Autism Specialist. “Which then we reinforce as staff, reinforce and encourage that behavior so they will do it more in the future.”

“It’s a curriculum that covers communication, it covers social skills,” explains Dr Kershaw. “There is even a calm down module that helps students who struggle with transition and frustration that teaches them how to self talk and process things so they are able to calm down.”

Robokind is just part of the education and fun at Camp Blast, a two week program which brings autistic students together not just to learn but to improve their day to day life and make friends too.

“The older individuals and younger ones I am seeing peer modeling, helping one another and even empathizing,” smiles Abbott. “And you don’t see a lot of empathy in Autism. I heard a student say yesterday I used to be just like you, it is ok come over here. Helped them transition better than probably a staff member could,”

“It makes me feel like I belong,” says Isaac Pepin, an Autistic student. “Unlike in other places where people say just because I am autistic I can’t do this or that. But now I can do whatever.”

Beaufort County has made strides with Robokind that they have decided to add to the program.

There will be six total Robokind teachers in local schools this year.

Camp Blast has been such a success this Summer that school leaders hope to expand it further next Summer.

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