‘The Lab’ is a technology club for kids with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s. It operates on Saturdays during school terms at the New School of Arts at South Grafton.
Bob Carnaby (volunteer organiser) of South Grafton, created the local branch earlier this year. It is only the second rural-based branch operating in NSW to cater for kids on the Autism spectrum (ASD) – The other branch being located at Bega.
“We started the first session in June with about 14 kids”, Bob said. “But the numbers soon doubled”.
“With session numbers capped at 20, to better accommodate the kids, we had to start running a second session. “The Lab now has 38 active-registrations.
Lab sessions of two-hours duration are held each Saturday and mentored by I.T. professionals.
Bob explains, “The Lab provides an environment where participants can share their interests in a wide variety of activities such as gaming together, video creation and sharing, graphic design, programming and game development”. “We have four I.T. mentors who work with the kids”.
“A place where these kids can blend in, be understood and not be judged,”
“We aim for the kids to learn how to work with others, how to make friends and how to interact socially, as well as simply feeling accepted and valued by peers with common interests”, he said.
The sessions are not structured and the program is not considered educational, nor medical/health related – it is a social program, with some educational benefits. “Many of these kids have an aversion to school, so we do all we can to not replicate anything like a school environment,” Bob explained. “These kids are not mad, bad or defective. They are like left-handed people, caught up in a right-handed person’s world.”
“Some of these kids may well become our future problem solvers and IT development leaders.”
The Lab concept was devised in 2000 at Melbourne University. It has since grown in popularity, with branches opening all over Australia.
“There is little else available for kids on the spectrum like The Lab”.
“A place where they can blend in, be understood and not be judged,” Bob explained.
To become a member of The Lab Grafton, you need to be between the ages of 9 and 16, be high functioning ASD and enjoy working with computers. A diagnosis is not required.
Bring a lap top if you have one and a head-set. If not we have some loaner equipment. A tablet is an option, but laptops provide more flexibility. “We are always looking for any surplus laptops to be donated for the use of kids who don’t have their own”. Bob added.
Cost is $20 / session. Payment may be made through NDIS, for those who qualify. The Lab is registered to redeem Services NSW ‘Creative Kids Vouchers’.
For more information or the register, go to www.thelab.org.au or call Bob on 0419 610 917.