New Architecture Program Allows Teens with ASD to Build Job Skills

Students use the SketchUp software to build virtual worlds.
(photo credit: Al Hartmann, The Salt Lake Tribune)

A new program has been implemented to help autistic teens build a particular set of job skills. Ten teenagers on the autism spectrum were selected for a pilot project by NeuroVersity, a company that plans to give students with autism the training and experience they will need in order to land stable employment. In this new program, students are using design software to build job skills for a career in architecture.

The students are working with 3-D imaging software called SketchUp Make, which has been developed by Google. Many teens on the autism spectrum are particularly interested in technology, and this program allows them to utilize something they are interested in, as well as help them learn visually and spatially, with a focus on one particular subject.

NeuroVersity was founded by nursing professor Scott Wright and professor of family and consumer studies Cheryl Wright. Their new architecture project selected students that were recommended by their high schools for a two-week pilot program at the Columbus Community Center in Salt Lake City. They focused on using SketchUp, as it is often used in industries such as construction, architecture, urban planning, and video game design. In the first week of the project, teens designed their own creations: building virtual neighborhoods, raceways, as well as trucks and tanks. They even creatively designed fantasy worlds such as one that featured dragons. In addition, although there was no homework assigned to them, many of the teens continued to work in these programs once they went home each night, as well as through the weekend, showing just how invested they became in the project.

At the end of the first week, organizers of the project told the boys, “If you want to come back next week, you’ll be able to work on a real project and get paid.” Even though the amount they would be paid was kept as a surprise to them, all ten boys showed up, happy to work on a real project. Mike Plaudis of Big-D Construction, who also has a son with autism, taught the students about building design, and then asked the boys to convert 2D drawings into a three-dimensional blueprint.

Aside from building technical skills in each of these students, the program also helped build their self-confidence and their ability to express themselves. Denise Dimock, mother of 15-year old Mason, a student in the program, states, “The entire experience has been magical. It has empowered him”. By investing himself in a project he was so interested in, Mason became more confident about his work and his talents. Furthermore, he decided to present his work in front of 15 other students.

Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and CEO of ICare4Autism, discussed Global Autism Workforce Initiatives at the groundbreaking ICare4Autism International ICare4Autism Conference, which took place two weeks ago in NYC. ICare4Autism’s workforce initiatives focus on promoting innovative programs that help educate and train individuals on the spectrum, easing their transition into the workplace. On the first day of the conference, Dr. Weinstein emphasized the importance of creating new opportunities for individuals with autism at this current time, as over 50,000 autistics graduate high school every year, leaving a huge need for employment opportunities that will make a difference in their lives, as well as in our communities. ICare4Autism fully supports programs such as the one created by NeuroVersity, as they have given individuals the opportunity to realize their own potential, helping them gain the skills that can set them on the path to success. Individuals with autism offer a very unique and valuable skill set, and it is important that more companies invest into these individuals and provide them a range of opportunities for a happy, fulfilling life.

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