This is a post by Todd Fabacher, founder of the new initiative, Empower Individuals with Autism Through Coding. He is also the CEO and Co-Founder of Digital Pomegranate, and is the father of a teenage son with autism.
As a father of a teenage son on the autism spectrum, I recently asked myself what happens to our children with autism when they become adults with autism. What I want most for my son is opportunity.
An opportunity to get a skill that will allow him to succeed. I even looked it up in the dictionary..op·por·tu·ni·ty [äpərˈt(y)o͞onədē] a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something, a chance for employment or promotion. Synonyms: favorable time/occasion/moment, right set of circumstances, opening, option, window (of opportunity), turn, go, possibility;
Yet, when I looked at the sad statistics that say only 56% of those on the autism spectrum graduate from high school and 80% of them are under or unemployed, I decided that I needed to do something – not only for my son, but also for the hundreds of thousands of families facing the same challenge.
I’ve been a programmer for over 25 years, and I wondered if this could be the solution. I started by trying to interest both my kids in WordPress and some web development, but it rapidly became clear that this was not the answer. They wanted to create apps, the things they used every day on their devices, and WordPress couldn’t do that.
I picked up LiveCode. Would my son Ryan engage with it? Could this be the answer? LiveCode offered straightforward, English like programming, with a drag and drop interface and immediate results. So I tried it. We engaged in a family project, building an app for my daughter (who is not on the spectrum) to keep track of her girl scouts cookies sales. We worked together as a family, and we’re proud of the result! I can envisage millions of little girls using this app to help keep their sales organized. It really worked.
Seeing the natural fit between coding and autism gave me ideas. I wanted to do more than just help my own son. How could I raise the profile of coding as a solution to the employment and opportunity problem? I decided to try and put together a coalition of interested parties and see how many young people on the autistic spectrum we could help into employment by training them to code. Software programming is now one of the most in-demand job skills in the world. Many individuals on the autism spectrum have exceptionally strong skills, including pattern recognition and a high attention to detail, which are ideal for coding.
This was our focus recently when the NASDAQ stock exchange allowed LiveCode and the autism community to ring the opening bell and bring awareness of empowering individuals on the autism spectrum. It was a true honor to reach millions, yet the focus still needs to be on a real practical skill that can be learned at home and on the schedule of the individual.
On April 2nd I had the pleasure of attending United Nations’ world autism awareness day that declared 2015 theme as Employment: The Autism Advantage. Several tech companies participated, seeing opportunities in hiring individuals on the autism spectrum. Microsoft, Specialisterne, LiveCode and German software giant SAP were all there.
SAP announced they wish to take 1 percent of its workforce from those on the autism spectrum by the year 2020. This is not altruism. According to The Wall Street Journal, SAP believes autistic employees will benefit their business. Jose Valasco, head of the autism initiative for SAP, says people with autism have characteristics that SAP needs in software testers or debuggers.
The mobile app industry has grown to almost $ 75 billion and software programming is the #1 tech job, according to US & World news. It allows individuals on the autism spectrum to learn at home and at their desired pace. Gaining a skill set in programming provides opportunity. Entrepreneurism in the startup app business is growing and many companies do not require a college degree for their programmers.
The initiative to Empower Autism Through Coding has been launched as a partnership between a wide spread of autism charities and LiveCode Ltd. The goal is to train and empower 3,000 individuals on the autism spectrum by offering a specialized online program to teach and mentor app software development. I see this as one piece of puzzle to solve the high adult unemployment issue for those on the autism spectrum.
I hope this can be the way forward for my son, and for many others like him.