An award-winning computer club for children with autism co-founded by a Victoria University researcher is going online to help kids in remote areas.
‘The Lab’ was set up five years ago as a place for children with high-functioning autism to grow personally and socially through their interests in technology, said Dr Stefan Schutt, an honorary VU research fellow.
By connecting 10 to 16 year-old children with each other and volunteer IT mentors, The Lab has helped hundreds of autistic young people navigate social norms and build friendship networks, which most find complicated and difficult.
After spreading to 15 sites across Australia from its initial Footscray base, Dr Schutt said the next step was to pilot it online for geographically-isolated children.
“The premise will still be the same except the kids will be connected through weekly video tutorials and online conferences to chat with mentors and one another,” he said. “We want to see if the success of The Lab can be replicated remotely.”
Dr Schutt credits The Lab’s success to its ability to offer a safe place for vulnerable children to retain control over how they are perceived, and demonstrate and celebrate their skills – rather than hide their unique qualities.
“In online communities, there’s less pressure to respond in ways that their peers find acceptable, and they’re more likely to find like-minded people with similar interests,” he said.
The Lab Online will start in mid-July, and is targeted to children in remote or regional areas of Victoria as well as Queensland via a partnership with the Brisbane School of Distance Education. It is funded through the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.
Dr Schutt is looking for up to 20 young people aged 10 to 16 interested in computers with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome to register.
(Source: Victoria University)