Robot helps teach children on autism spectrum in Chisholm
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Robot helps teach children on autism spectrum in Chisholm

At Caroline Chisholm School, there's a new teacher in town, Leo the robot.

Six programmers undergoing a work placement at DXC Technologies, an IT company, have programmed the robot to help engage with children on the autism spectrum at the school's junior campus.

Connor Costanzo and Christopher Goddard with Leo the robot at Caroline Chisholm School. They are part of a team that has programmed the robot to help children with autism.

Connor Costanzo and Christopher Goddard with Leo the robot at Caroline Chisholm School. They are part of a team that has programmed the robot to help children with autism.Credit:Rohan Thomson

Part of DXC's Dandelionwork placement program, Leo has been programmed by people who are also on the autism spectrum.

They've used their own learning experiences to help develop how Leo would engage with children.

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Two of the programmers, Christopher Goddard and Connor Costanzo, said if they'd had Leo as a teacher back in school, it would have made learning a lot easier.

"This is going to help a lot of people. I'm just so excited to see that happen," Mr Costanzo said.

"It kind of looks like some basic robotic toy [...] but it's also something to help students."

Part of Leo's appeal was his toy-like nature, the children could learn things while enjoying themselves at the same time.

"I never had many of those support elements, particularly in my primary years, so I understand how difficult it can be," Mr Goddard said.

"This would've been absolutely amazing."

The team talked to the kids at the school about what features they wanted to see in Leo before they taught him to walk, talk, and listen, troubleshooting any bugs.

DXC Dandelion program executive Malcolm Fieldhouse said 80 per cent of people on the autism spectrum were unemployed and he hoped people like Mr Goddard or Mr Costanzo could act as mentors for the younger students.

Mr Goddard is aiming for a job in cybersecurity.

Caroline Chisholm Junior Campus principal Sally Alexander said the children were absolutely thrilled about their new teacher.

"The robot doesn't give a variety of answers. A lot of our children need black and white answers, so it helps them for things that are a little complicated for them," Mr Alexander said.

"Humans are colourful. To get a robot to help [children] work through that. It's not going to be the answer to everything but it's just another way of them engaging with the world."

Leo's rotation is for another six months.

Finbar O'Mallon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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