Programming, A Great Hobby for an Autistic Child2 min read

stem girlComputer Programming, aka “Coding” is some­thing that has come up every now and then in jour­nals and writ­ings on Autism. It is known by some that the Tech Giants such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google all try to hire autistic pro­gram­mers and devel­opers. But why? What makes them such a high-value employee that multi-million dollar com­pa­nies will fight over?

Well, many edu­ca­tional experts and researchers believe that there is a nat­ural fit between some of the nat­ural skills pos­sessed by chil­dren on the spec­trum and many of the skills required for com­puter pro­gram­ming.

Computer pro­gram­ming requires sev­eral skills, a lot of which many chil­dren with Autism excel in. A few of these include strong math, logic skills, and spa­tial rea­soning abil­i­ties.

What is Coding?

Well, sim­pli­fied, coding is the task of cre­ating the instruc­tions and direc­tives that com­puters follow to show web­sites, run apps, make the apps, and even startup at all. Hey, when you loaded this page, WordPress, A semantic blog engine, got called by the web­server, It then went through about 590,700 lines of code to pro­duce the con­tent you are cur­rently reading.

Why Should My Autistic Child Learn to Code

Well, there are sev­eral rea­sons.

  1. The employ­ment rate of adults with autism is esti­mated at between 10 – 20%. Knowing how to pro­gram can boost the prob­a­bility of your child get­ting hired.
  2. Next year, in 2020, there will be about 1 mil­lion unfilled pro­gram­ming jobs in the US due to a shortage of qual­i­fied pro­gram­mers.
  3. Computer sci­ence builds skill in sev­eral areas including sci­ence, problem solving, math, team­work, cre­ative arts, project-based learning, and more. As Steve Jobs famously stated “Coding teaches you how to think.”
  4. Look around.  Without the pro­gram­mers, the United States would fall faster than the Stock Market in 2008.

What’s the Attraction?

In an article on teaching com­puter sci­ence to kids with Asperger’s Syndrome, Kristen Ribu from Oslo University College, finds that autistic stu­dents are drawn to com­puter sci­ence largely because com­puters are con­sis­tent and log­ical. Basically, com­puter pro­gram­ming is an exer­cise in plan­ning and designing inputs that yield a set of expected out­puts, while social inter­ac­tions are unpre­dictable.

Students with autism prefer this style of problem-solving, where their ability to orga­nize data and build reli­able struc­tures is useful while pro­ducing pre­dictable results.

In another inter­esting study, Claire Berube found that pro­gram­ming builds on logic and spa­tial intel­li­gence, both cat­e­gories in which many chil­dren with autism excel.

Spatial intel­li­gence relates to the facility with which people can visu­alize things with their mind’s eye– an excep­tion­ally impor­tant part of coding.

Note: In her article, there is an over-representation of people with Asperger’s Syndrome in com­puter sci­ence studies and in the com­puter industry.

What age to start?

I would rec­om­mend the age of 5 years old at the min­imum; of course, at this time, they would be doing simple drag and drop pro­gram­ming through Scratch.

I have included a list of my per­sonal favorites for learning to code:

    1. Start with Scratch, A Drag and Drop Learning Method that teaches the basics of Programming. https://scratch.mit.edu/
    2. Then Move onto https://code.org/ and https://www.codecademy.com/

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. It sounds like it would be a fun thing to learn one day:)

  2. And then there are people like me. I was born long before autism was more than a mys­te­rious word known to few, but I was, as an adult, instantly attracted to com­puters as they went through their early evo­lu­tion. I thought that pro­gram­ming would be fun, but alas, even BASIC defeated me. It was only years later that I dis­cov­ered why, and that it also applied to my almost total lack of com­pre­hen­sion of math. Coding. Not com­puter coding, as such, but the ability to use sym­bols as rep­re­senting some­thing mean­ingful. Coding is one of my dis­abil­i­ties, and it’s popped up in var­ious guises throughout my life. Maybe it’s one more reason to be glad that I couldn’t be diag­nosed as autistic in child­hood. If I’d been intro­duced to com­puter coding, it would have been just one more source of frus­tra­tion and failure. It’s still a source of sorrow to be shut out of that form of cre­ativity.

    1. Of course, I don’t think Nolan, our youngest con­trib­utor at 15 years old, is saying that all autis­tics would be suited for coding. I think he is talking more to par­ents to encourage them to help their autistic chil­dren find a way that they can leverage the way their chil­dren’s minds work from an early age and encourage their love of a spe­cial interest instead of pathol­o­gizing it.

      I think that the ulti­mate under­lying mes­sage is to sup­port and help your chil­dren pursue their spe­cial inter­ests instead of wor­rying, “Oh, it’s too much time spent in front of a screen,” or “I’m wor­ried he/she won’t make any friends” for being so invested in an area of spe­cial­iza­tion.

      1. I don’t think it’s the *amount* of screen time par­ents should be con­cerned about, but what the kids are doing when they’re in front of the screen. Coding as either a hobby or a pos­sible future career is cer­tainly some­thing I would have sup­ported if per­sonal com­puters had been around when my kids were young.

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