Researchers at the University of Utah have created a program that helps kids with autism focus on building their skills and utilizing an aptitude for visual-spatial thinking, computers and other electronic media.
Cheryl Wright, associate professor of family and consumer studies, coordinated the workshops in partnership with Google’s Project Spectrum, an initiative to teach job skills to kids with autism. Steve Gross, a certified SketchUp instructor and designer for Universal Creative theme parks, leads the workshops.
Each workshop teaching the 3D modeling software SketchUp was two hours long and included hands-on training as well as time for students to share their design projects. At the end of six weeks, the participants, all boys, presented their designs to classmates at their schools and at community events.
The organizers soon found far greater benefits to these workshops than acquiring a skill set for potential employment. The sessions facilitated social engagement among the students and their peers, parents, siblings and even grandparents.
The success of the workshops led to greater self-confidence in parents, who began to rethink what they expected of their parenting ability and began to feel more effective.
They also noticed their sons’ sincere concern about friends in the workshops – something that hadn’t happened in other social interactions. The parents and grandparents who noticed these changes began to feel optimistic that the boys would be able to develop genuine relationships with children and adults in the future.