The Lab, a program designed to support young people with high functioning autism has been so influential, that one of the participants who moved abroad after joining the program now dials in from Switzerland to join in and chat with his friends.
During a Saturday morning session at The Lab’s Gold Coast location, volunteers and technology mentors who run the program found all bar two children sitting together chatting - a truly memorable moment for the instructors, as well as the children’s families.
Some people may not recognise the significance of these moments, but for the program leaders and the families involved, to see these young people forming friendships is truly moving.
Many children with autism often find it difficult to make friends and they struggle in social environments. The Lab works to overcome these barriers, by providing a safe space where they can form new friendships with other children who share the same interests, while also creating networks between the parents.
The Lab programs are run by volunteers and mentors but guided by the curiosity of the participants who use these sessions to share their interests in video creation, graphic design and programming, among other things.
In the hope of reaching out to more children with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome in their community, The Lab Gold Coast recently applied for government funding, which will go towards supporting the three weekly two-hour sessions for the 10 to 16 year olds (about 14 youths in each session) who may struggle to flourish in the mainstream school environment.
Just Better Care Gold Coast owner Bram Baker is matching the Australian Government’s Stronger Communities Programme grant dollar for dollar, saying it was important more resources were contributed to a program that increased social connectedness between these young people and their families.
“Social acceptance is important for any young person, but it can be more difficult to achieve for those with autism. The Lab is aiming to change that,” Bram said.
“We know some children with high functioning autism respond well to learning through assistive technologies, which is why it’s especially important that programs like The Lab receive ongoing support.
“This money will go towards more computers, a video game console, board games and upgrading the internet with a new modem, giving more participants the opportunity to pursue their interest in technology,” Bram said.
“It has opened a lot of doors for young people in terms of a career outlook, as well as making friends for life.”
The program has been a shining light for families, many of whom have seen their children make friends with others for the first time while attending the weekly sessions. Other milestone moments, such as being invited to birthday parties or family camping trips, have been key measures of success for the proud parents.
To find a Lab near you, visit thelab.org.au/join
Read more stories like this in our quarterly magazine, Possible.