Computer 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.
- 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.
- Next year, in 2020, there will be about 1 million unfilled programming jobs in the US due to a shortage of qualified programmers.
- 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.”
- 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:
- Start with Scratch, A Drag and Drop Learning Method that teaches the basics of Programming. https://scratch.mit.edu/
- Then Move onto https://code.org/ and https://www.codecademy.com/
- Programming, A Great Hobby for an Autistic Child - April 24, 2019
It sounds like it would be a fun thing to learn one day:)
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.
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.
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.