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MSSE student assists in Autism project

October 23, 2006

MSSE student Mikko Niemioja has found an innovative project to work on as part of his degree program. He's implementing a web-based computer program called "The Visual Autism Symptom Scale" intended to be used by teachers to more accurately evaluate Autism in children and tailor lessons to their ability.

The project is the vision of Diane Halpin, a second-year doctoral student, seeking her degree in Special Education. Halpin is also the mother of a 10-year-old daughter with Autism.

The Autism Society of America describes Autism as a developmental disability, affecting communication and social interaction.

Halpin said there are 12 key symptoms expressed by children with Autism, but they're expressed with varying severity and children don't all show the same symptoms. She said with this computer system, teachers will be able to answer a series of tailored questions to gauge a student's abilities and devise a more effective lesson plan.

After devising the concept for the program, Halpin said she needed programming assistance and was referred by a neighbor to UMSEC professors, who linked her with Niemioj last spring.

Niemioja is an MSSE student, while working a full-time job at Travelers in St. Paul. Despite a busy schedule, he said working on the project has been very beneficial.

"Here's a chance to take the skills I've acquired so far through the MSSE program and create something great for the University," said Niemioja." It's been a great learning experience for me."

"It's been a wonderful relationship," Halpin said of her work with Niemioja. "I wouldn't have been able to pull this off without the help of the [Computer Science & Engineering] department."

Niemioja is currently working on the program prototype and Halpin is seeking funding and programming assistance for the project. She said she's hoping to publish a paper about the project within a year.