Amy Moody with robot

Dec. 4, 2018

A diminutive robot named “Cozmo” is one of Amelia Moody’s favorite teaching tools when she works with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD. Cozmo has a childlike personality and the ability to express a range of human emotions, which makes him ideal for working with children whose ASD can make learning academic subjects and social skills especially challenging.

“Children with ASD have unique skill sets that lend themselves to STEM learning,” said Moody, an associate professor of early childhood and special education. “They also process visual information easier than auditory information, which makes visual coding systems and programs where there are hands-activities more appealing.”

Cozmo and other robots Moody uses “learn” new maneuvers and responses through artificial intelligence. Moody, who goes by “Amy,” also works to show teachers that it’s easy to incorporate robotics into the classroom.

“Some educators fear robotics if they are not ‘coders,’” she said. “Many robots now have drag-and-drop coding for beginners and young children, which makes it easy for teachers to learn.”

But for children with ASD, robots also can become like friends, making them useful for teaching social skills and managing behaviors and emotions, Moody explained. Cozmo’s tantrums are amusing, but they also provide a teaching moment.

“This allows educators to introduce discussions about calming strategies and challenging behaviors,” Moody said. “Social skills like taking turns and waiting can be required when working with robots in small groups.”

Moody earned a B.S. in psychology and sports medicine from Radford University and a Master of Science in counseling psychology from Loyola College in Maryland. She learned that education was her professional calling while working at the Virginia Institute for Autism in Baltimore.

“I had experience working with individuals with disabilities but had not thought of teaching as a profession,” she said. “While there, I fell in love with teaching and working with children with autism and their families.”

She went on to earn an M.Ed. in early childhood special education and a Ph.D. in special education from the University of Virginia. Although not trained in robotics or coding, she believes they add value in the instructional process while making learning seem like play.

“We run yearly robotics events designed for students with ASD. Student engagement is high and challenging behaviors are low,” Moody said. “They are learning and having fun.”


 -- Tricia Vance