‘Coding club’ harnesses unique talents of youth with autism

By Therapy Focus

Extraordinary attention to detail, a very literal mind and the ability to look at things differently are just some of the unique talents held by young people with autism that are being harnessed to create pathways to valued, long-term employment.

Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist Kahlia Wingfield is working with Curtin University’s Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) to help young people on the autism spectrum find employment in the area of software testing.

AASQA Founder and Director Professor Tele Tan said the ‘Coding Club’ program, allows participants to use their natural talents in a practical and complimentary way.

“Software testing is something that is quite often overlooked by corporates,” Tele said.

“So we are providing this particular ability or strength of people with autism; for example, attention to detail and the ability to go through things with a fine tooth comb and to be able to do this repetitively. These skills are extremely important in the information communication technology industry.”

Kahlia said this was the case for program participant Chris Van Der Walt who completed a work placement at a software company as part of the program.

“Generally if a youth with autism has a particular interest or niche skills in the area of coding, the tasks are often completed with a high level of accuracy,” Kahlia said.

“This was certainly the case at Chris’ recent work placement where feedback was that he often picked up errors in the codes that the employer missed himself.”

Pictured: AASQA participants Scott Bradley (L) and Chris Van der Walt (C) with Professor Tele Tan and Therapy Focus Occupational Therapist, Kahlia Wingfield

While he believes having skills in programming and an awareness of technology and how technology works at a very young age is important, Tele said a collaborative, community approach was essential for the program to work effectively.

“The support that Kahlia provides is key to identifying the strengths of participants and matching these strengths with jobs that will enable them to continue their self-development,” Tele said.

“By tailoring the experience, both students and employers get the very most out of the opportunity. Kahlia’s skills are especially important here. Preparing someone to enter a new environment – like going on work experience for the first time – is extremely important. If you get it wrong, they’ll have a bad experience and they’ll never do it again, so it’s very important we get it right the first time.”

In addition to helping program participants prepare for work placements, Kahlia educates employers about autism to ensure all parties have clear expectations and knowledge of what can be achieved through work experience.

“I meet with the employer prior to the placement to discuss their knowledge and understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder, what they can expect, and how to best work with someone with autism,” Kahlia said.

“During the work placement it’s my role to keep the lines of communication open between all parties – the participant, their family and support network and the employer – to ensure the experience is as successful as it can be.”

Chris’s Mum Cindy said that attending the Academy has not only improved her son’s job opportunities, it had also improved his overall wellbeing and outlook on life.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to him,” Cindy said.

“Before he started he was always angry and very sad, and since he started the program it’s like he’s a new person. He’s so happy. Everyone comments on him smiling. They never saw him smile and now he’s smiling and laughing and all you hear about is coding club!”

Cindy said Chris was looking forward to pursuing his education even further following coding club.

“He has everything planned already; he wants to go to TAFE to do his Cert IV and then he wants to go to Curtin to go on with this program, and then we’ll see from there!”

For more information about AASQA visit the Curtin University website.

four people play with a robot on the floor

Pictured: The group programming a robot.

Specialist Autism Services

Read about the services and supports Therapy Focus offers children and adults with autism.