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Programming for inclusion | News, Sports, Jobs – Youngstown Vindicator

May 29, 2022
YOUNGSTOWN — Some people might dismiss as silly the notion that a fish can grow legs and teeth merely by eating smaller fish.
But don’t tell that to Nicholas Newton.
“The game is an entire reference to evolution games,” Nicholas, 12, a student at the Rich Center for Autism on the Youngstown State University campus, said about an interactive computer game he created.
The program, set to music, depicts a fish gobbling smaller ones as he touches the screen or keyboard, which allows the main fish to grow. He also selected the tune, Nicholas explained.
“Is the music great or what?” he said with excitement.
Nicholas also was among the estimated 20 students on the autism spectrum from the Rich Center and the Potential Development School who showcased computer projects they developed this school year as part of a National Science Foundation research study into autism. The students’ programs were on display Friday in YSU’s Kilcawley Center.
The underlying idea was to implement and test an accessible computer curriculum as well as computational thinking for those on the spectrum.
The effort also was part of an NSF research-and-development grant awarded to YSU professors Margaret Briley, assistant professor of teacher education, and Abdu Arslanyilmaz, professor of computer science, information and engineering technology, both of whom collaborated on the project.
In addition, the program sought to teach the students basic computer programming and encourage them to use visual methods to conceptualize how to proceed, Brendan Considine, a supervisor with the Rich Center, explained.
“It was an opportunity for them to be creative and use their interests … and bring their creations to life,” he said.
The students’ works were the final leg of what they had learned throughout the school year, Considine added.
Also happy to display his work was Ayden Kucik, 13, who also attends the Rich Center. He is nonverbal.
Ayden’s computer program, “Star Shine,” reflects his love of computers and his computer savviness. It shows a large star moving across the screen that simulates a galaxy as music plays.
When he’s not doing something computer-related, you may find Ayden watching an episode of the popular 1980s sitcom “The Golden Girls,” his favorite program, or a show on Nickelodeon, said his father, Chris Kucik.
“He’s very sweet and loving; he loves hugs, laughing and giggling,” Chris added.
Katie Petridis, the Potential Development School’s program coordinator, noted that the students in her school worked on modified curriculums tailored to their learning styles and with certain accommodations. The effort was broken down one step at a time, since many on the spectrum have difficulty processing too many instructions at once, she explained.
Also lending a hand throughout the process that began last September were YSU graduates and undergraduates, Petridis said.
The Rich Center and Potential Development students’ computer projects were the culmination of what they learned during the school year, she added.
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