Children on Autism spectrum getting set up for future STEM careers

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The United States is facing a growing shortage of qualified workers in the technology industries. At the same time, there are a lot of people on the Autism spectrum with strong interest in that field.

A first-of-its-kind program in our region is helping get local kids ready for those future careers.

AT&T and the WNY STEM Hub have teamed up with the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities to a flagship program for high-functioning children with Austism Spectrum Disorder.

“When we’re talking about ‘high-functioning’, we’re talking about kids that have average to above average cognitive and language skills but have difficulty with what I always call the ‘social dance’, connecting with other people,” explained the co-director for the Institute for Autism Research, Dr. Marcus Thomeer, PhD.

For the last 17 years, the Institute for Autism Research has offered a highly-successful SummerMAX program to help children work on those social skills for seven and a half hours a day, five days a week, for five weeks.

Dr. Thomeer says adding STEM activities to the program, with AT&T and the WNY STEM Hub’s Prism Program, was a perfect fit for the children in SummerMAX, many of whom have a natural inclination toward computers and technology.

“The beauty of being with us in this program is while they’re doing that, which they’re going to absolutely love, Hey, guess what: You have to cooperate. You have to share. You have to look at people. You have to work with people,” Dr. Thomeer said. “You can be the smartest person in the room. If you don’t know how to interact with other people, you’re going to have problems.”

The social challenges can be a major problem for young people with Autism who are trying to join the workforce. They may not shine as job candidates, even with the highly sought after technical skills that are needed in the growing tech industries.

“You want nothing more — and I’m a parent as well — than for your children to do well in life and to have every opportunity, and to have a program such as this really makes those things possible,” said Kevin Hanna, AT&T’s Director of External Affairs.

Part of the new STEM activities that were added to the SummerMAX program this year involve having the kids meet adults in STEM careers.

You can learn more about the SummerMAX program here

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