Autism Awareness Day: when robots foster inclusive education
© Françoise Creste
World Autism Awareness Day on Monday, 2 April 2018 was marked in Bordeaux with an event on the waterfront that attracted a continual flow of people. A few days prior to the announcement of the Fourth Autism Plan, the loan of Thymios by Inria Bordeaux Sud-Ouest gave people the opportunity to discover the value of educational robots for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Among its many activities, Inria develops educational material for teachers, including the “Design me a robot” project. It is also the main developer for the integration of the Scratch programming language for Thymio. As part of this effort, the Inria Bordeaux Sud-Ouest centre regularly loans out several Thymios robots for educational purposes.
Cathy Hémon, educational advisor for students with special needs at the Academy of Bordeaux, is responsible for coordinating various disability-related programmes in the Gironde region. On 2 April, she presented the work currently being done by Professor Mehdi Beziat in a programme for pupils with ASD.
Hémon explains, “The main challenges for pupils with ASD when it comes to learning are difficulties concentrating, along with executive and communication dysfunction.”
The Thymio robot gains their attention and keeps them focussed on the task, but also fosters the development of their executive functions: planning, anticipation and cognitive flexibility.
The robot improves the children’s social skills through working in a group and involvement in a project. Once they have learned how to program the Thymios, they can go to other classes to share their skills with other pupils, thereby creating new links.
On this second day of April, enthusiasm was very high: parents and children were able to use the robots, and many took pictures and developed contacts with a view to developing a similar project for their organization or institution. In addition to the families, directors of specialized establishments, school assistants, educators and teachers were interested in the project and were able to discover the various possibilities for working with this tool.
“The goal of the project is to address the difficulties of pupils with ASD and to connect them to what the robots can provide. This can be useful for many other children with disabilities. Our objective is to identify specific indicators concerning projects and pupils and especially to measure inclusive education in primary and secondary schools,” concludes Hémon.