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Robots, apps support special ed students

Students using the ASK NAO, a new robot meant to help autistic students learn.

A human-like robot that can mimic emotions and play interactive games can help students with autism develop social skills.

Aldebaran Robotics’ “ASK NAO” robot, which is about two feet tall, mimics an emotion with gestures and sounds, and waits for children to recognize the emotion. It may then ask children the last time they experienced such an emotion. It also can teach autistic children time, taking turns, basic conversation, and other communication skills.

NAO can help bridge the gap between the human and technological, encouraging students’ social interaction and learning and increasing confidence and self-esteem, says Alia Pyros, Aldebaran’s autism marketing and community coordinator. “This helps children get used to communicating and interacting ... so they feel more comfortable using those skills with a person.”

ASK (Autism Solution for Kids) NAO (pronounced “now”) was tested for several months in The Moody Elementary School in Lowell, Mass., and another school in the United Kingdom, and is now available for purchase. “Both beta schools have told us that children who were previously nonverbal have started to communicate and are learning these skills,” Pyros says.

Aside from the robot, iPads and other mobile devices have apps designed to help students with learning disabilities. These apps can be especially beneficial in flipped classrooms with 1-to-1 mobile device programs, says Andrea Prupas, of inov8 Educational Consulting, which specializes in assistive technology.

Mobile apps like Doodlecast Pro let teachers upload presentations that students can watch at home, as often as needed, which can help students with hearing or reading disabilities,” she adds.

For students who have attention deficit disorder, Prupas says iOS apps like Popplet and iThoughts teach organization. The apps create visuals, such as lists, diagrams, charts, and photo albums, that help students plan out class projects now—and will later help them at the “college level and in their future careers,” she says.