Great Kids: SMSA seniors team up to get robot that helps children with autism

Robot helps children with autism
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 7:12 PM EDT
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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Two high school seniors from the Sports and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford teamed up for a very personal senior capstone project.

They each have a little sister on the autism spectrum, and they found a way to help improve their lives thanks to a grant and a robot named Kebbi.

Meet Kebbi, the educational robot designed specifically to help children with autism connect with others.

It’s a concept that’s very real for seniors Rihana Foote and Angie Echevarria.

They both have sisters on the spectrum.

Angie’s sister is 15.

“My sister struggles a lot with social skills and speaking with another person,” Angie said.

Rihana’s sister is 4.

“One thing she struggles with most is she is non-verbal. I wanted to give her something to make her speak more and express her emotions in a healthier way,” said Rihana.

For their senior capstone project, they teamed up specifically to obtain Kebbi the robot.

Both are motivated by their shared passion: reaching their sisters.

“Seeing my sister struggling like even to speak to me and like my family. seeing her struggling speaking. It motivated me to get the robot for her,” Angie said.

They did their research and found Movia Robotics in Bristol.

The students also learned the robot wasn’t cheap. The cost is about $2,800.

“We were like scared because there’s no way we could raise that much money,” said Rihana.

They then learned they could get the money through a grant and started working on the grant in October.

The girls and their teacher will be quick to tell you this was no simple process. They put in a lot of hard work. Rihana and Angie ran into a roadblock, especially when they first applied for the grant and were denied.

“They had to be persistent,” said Amy Boutilier, Capstone Coordinator. “They had to go back rewrite it, fix it. And send it back. It was not just a slam dunk. They had go through it and they did.”

They got the grant in January and the robot in March.

Two weeks ago, they spent a weekend learning how to use it.

Rihana already introduced Kebbi to her sister Skyler.

“She was dancing with him. She was moving his arms. She was really interested. She liked him. Afterwards she was in my room looking for him,” Rihana said.

Not only was this project so personal, but it was also practical.

It helped bridge the divide.

“I just want her to be more verbal with me,” Rihana said.

“Knowing they had something to fall back on to at least practice their skills so they can feel more comfortable speaking to other people,” said Angie.

They got better care for their sisters like good big sisters do.