National Autistic Society Article: How an AV1 robot supported our autistic pupil's return to school
5 April 2023 (by admin)
Community First Academy Trust's Mr M Haskayne writes for National Autistic Society on how an AV1 robot supported our autistic pupil's return to mainstream school following #covid19.
How an AV1 robot supported our autistic pupil's return to school
Published on 03 April 2023
Martin Haskayne is a deputy headteacher and trust-wide SENCo working with the Community First Academy Trust. In this article, he describes how an AV1 inclusion robot was used to support a pupil’s return to school following the COVID-19 pandemic and what staff learnt through the process.
Some children were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent changes in schooling more than others. One of our pupils, who was undergoing assessment for possible autism and pathological demand avoidance (PDA), found returning to the busy school environment more difficult than our other pupils. As we approached the summer holidays, they had not been into the school building for many weeks.
After discussing their needs with their family, our Educational Psychologist and specialist support teams, and attempting a range of strategies to support their return to school, a suggestion to loan a robot inspired us to try a new technique.
Why did we use an AV1 robot?
The suggestion to try an AV1 inclusion robot was initially viewed with scepticism, but in the absence of a different next step, we decided to try it. Our local authority owned a robot and was able to loan it to us for a small fee for a school term.
The principle is that the robot sits in the child’s position within the classroom, with an electronic tablet being used by the pupil to control it from their home. The software has tools to manoeuvre the robot to look 360 degrees around the room, change facial expression to show their current mood and engage with classroom discussion through a voice link.
Setting up the link between the robot and an iPad, including firewall permissions and all the security an out of school link would require, was at first daunting, but proved to be a simple task for our IT provider.
A few trial runs later, I took the tablet to the pupil’s home and accessed the robot (which was located with familiar staff in a classroom) with the pupil and their family, and a real time demonstration proved engaging. We explored the environment, spoke with staff and rehearsed the communication options. Before leaving, we looked at the upcoming classroom timetable and agreed that a science lesson would be the pupil’s first ‘drop in’ session.
Introducing the robot to the classroom
During the lesson, the robot was positioned on the desk in the pupil’s usual seat, next to their best friend. The robot was activated on time by the pupil from home, and with an excited buzz around the room, the class greeted the pupil, making a big fuss (via the robot), and the lesson commenced. The pupil used the robot to scan the room, have a one-to-one discussion with their best friend, and the lesson went well. Paired discussions, group table talk and sharing of resources all had the pupil’s full engagement via the robot.
At the end of the lesson, the pupil’s mother called the school, saying that they had asked to come into school for the last half hour of the day. We enthusiastically agreed, and they arrived a short time later, when they were welcomed in person and joined in with the last few minutes of the school day, before leaving school with their friends.
Over the next week, as we approached the summer holidays, the pupil joined selected lessons from home, and occasionally visited school towards the end of the day. On the penultimate day of term, the pupil joined us in school for the whole afternoon and took part in all class activities.
Planning for the new term
As the new term approached, we started to plan how the pupil would continue to use the robot to be involved in lessons and the technology was ready to go. The class teacher made a number of phone calls home, followed by a home visit from myself to check on the connection and timetable arrangements for the start of term. The pupil’s parents reported that the pupil had been speaking positively about wanting to return to school, and they did appear excited.
The first two days came and went and, though we spoke with the pupil and their family, and made attempts to connect, they were unable to take the step into school. However, on the third day they arrived and, despite looking nervous, they came into the classroom and participated.
Gradually, the pupil’s attendance has improved
Almost six months later, the pupil has now attended school on 67 out of a possible 95 days. On some days, they have arrived late, but on other days they have managed to enter in the morning with their classmates. The robot has been returned and we have managed with some telephone conversations where support and encouragement has been needed.
Our collaboration with the pupil’s family continues as we search for a method that allows the pupil to engage with learning on a daily basis. However, they are showing a determined attitude towards attempting to attend school and, when here, are making great steps in their learning.
We have come to realise that relationships are the key to providing a supportive environment for our pupils to thrive in, but we have not forgotten the role that our little robot played in opening the door to engagement and learning at a time when we needed something innovative.