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YOUNGSTOWN – Some people might dismiss as silly the idea that a fish can grow legs and teeth just by eating smaller fish.

But don’t tell that to Nicholas Newton.

“The game is a complete reference to evolutionary games,” Nicholas, 12, a student at the Rich Center for Autism on the Youngstown State University campus, said of an interactive computer game that he created.

The program, set to music, features a fish engulfing smaller ones by touching the screen or the keyboard, which allows the main fish to grow. He also chose the melody, Nicholas explained.

“Is the music great or what? he said enthusiastically.

Nicholas was also among approximately 20 students on the autism spectrum from the Rich Center and the Potential Development School who presented computer projects they developed this school year as part of a National Science Foundation on Autism. The student programs were on display Friday at YSU’s Kilcawley Center.

The idea behind it was to implement and test an accessible computer program and computational thinking for people on the spectrum.

The effort was also 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 technology and engineering, both of whom worked on the project.

Additionally, the program aimed to teach students basic computer programming and encourage them to use visual methods to conceptualize how to do it, said Brendan Considine, a supervisor at the Rich Center.

“It was an opportunity for them to be creative and use their interests…and bring their creations to life,” he said.

The students’ assignments were the final stage of what they had learned throughout the school year, Considine added.

Thirteen-year-old Ayden Kucik, who also attends the Rich Center, was also happy to exhibit his work. He is non-verbal.

Ayden’s computer program, “Star Shine”, reflects his love of computers and computer savvy. It shows a large star moving across the screen that simulates a galaxy while music plays.

When he’s not doing something computer-related, you can find Ayden watching an episode of the popular 1980s sitcom “The Golden Girls,” his favorite show, or a show on Nickelodeon, his dad said. , Chris Kucik.

“He is very sweet and loving; he loves cuddling, laughing and giggling,” Chris added.

Katie Petridis, program coordinator at the Potential Development School, noted that students at her school were working on modified programs suited to their learning styles and with some accommodations. The effort was broken down one step at a time, as many on the spectrum struggle with processing too many instructions at once, she explained.

YSU graduates and undergraduates also lent a hand throughout the process that began last September, Petridis said.

The Rich Center and Potential Development students’ IT projects were a culmination of what they learned during the school year, she added.

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