Rich Center for Autism

Robots Showing Promise for Students at Autism Center

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Research on robotic-driven curriculum by two faculty members at the Youngstown State University Rich Center for Autism shows the program is helping students improve both their social and emotional skills.

Gregory Boerio, Rich Center director and a faculty member in the YSU School Psychology Program and Karen Larwin, professor of Teacher Education and Leadership Studies at YSU, presented the new research earlier this month at the American Evaluation Association Annual Conference in New Orleans.

“The results from the first year of data collection are positive and indicate that students made significant gains,” Larwin said.

A partnership between the Rich Center, YSU and RoboKind, an education technology company, the curriculum utilizes human-looking, facially-expressive assistive robots, Milo and Jemi.

All teachers at the Rich Center are trained in the program, while graduate assistants in the school psychology program and students ages 3 to 21, utilize iPads to connect with the robots and the lessons, which encourage social-emotional development. Students learn important social skills, such as calming down, situational behavior and making eye contact.

Students at the Rich Center for Autism at YSU work with robot Jemi.

About 90% of students in the program receive at least one individual session per week and progress is monitored. The results of the research can be used by educators, families and practitioners to improve the interventions for autistic students.

“We are eager and excited to continue research in a wide array of areas associated with instructional practices for students with ASD,” Boerio said. “As an autism center, it is important for us to share the high-level practices we are implementing each and every day and extend our reach beyond our local community to help inform best practices.”

Boerio said the research is an example of the Rich Center’s increased efforts to develop strong connections with undergraduate and graduate programs at YSU.

“We are proud of our growth in this area the past two to three years,” he said. “It truly highlights one of the special aspects of the Rich Center being a part of YSU.”

The Paula and Anthony Rich Center for the Study and Treatment of Autism is an externally funded unit of YSU designed to improve the lives of individuals with autism. The Center is a conduit between the university, educators, health and human service professionals, according to a release.

Pictured at top: Robots Milo and Jemi

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.