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Middle school students partner with RIT on device for sensory challenges

Local middle school students are teaming up with students at Rochester Institute of Technology to create a therapeutic device for children with autism and other sensory challenges.

Both the Kids Miracle Making Club and RIT’s Effective Access Technology program use technology to help people with physical or developmental challenges. In a pilot program launched just this fall, Access Tech students mentored students at Brighton’s Twelve Corners Middle School, showing how the club’s program can look in a school setting.

“What we did in our partnership was say ‘jeez we’re doing the same thing you’re doing just at a younger level?’” said Steve Pellow, the kids’ club’s founder and president. “How do we get all the great things you’re doing at RIT into the community? What better way to teach our kids through the club and interact with you and have them do what you’re doing.”

Together, they worked on the “moon pad,” a floor device that captures children’s attention.

“The Moon Pad was one device developed by RIT for kids with autism and other developmental challenges who may lose their attention at times when going room to room,” Pellow explained. “So the kids actually found that moon pads gives them that attention. It allows that.”

The devices can be laid out end to end, like stepping-stones, and they’re tailored to the students’ needs. They may be brightly colored or textured.

For the past two months, students at Twelve Corners have been learning the science behind them and recreating them for the Mary Cariola Children’s Center. Pellow says they made them in the classroom a few weeks ago and now they’ll be delivered Friday to the center.

The program is only a pilot right now but Pellow said he’s committed to moving his club into more schools county-wide. He hopes the program will have a more permanent role at the Brighton middle school and said he’s in talks to implement it more fully in January.

He said service-based projects could make students more community-oriented and teach them how technology can help others. And because they’re working right with those who need the technology, they learn to communicate, empathize and design for others in mind.

“We want to put the emphasis on both the education portion and the service portion,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing this pilot. We want to bring that STEAM portion in to give the kids the opportunity to learn and then apply it through their community service activities, through their service learning program.” 

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.