Steve Teece examines a new batch of laptop cooling stands for the kids at The Lab.
Steve Teece examines a new batch of laptop cooling stands for the kids at The Lab. TIM JARRETT

Autism diagnosis motivator to help ASD children

JUST months before he offered to help kids with autism at The Lab, Steve Teece had been diagnosed with the disorder himself.

When Bob Carnaby the call out in The Daily Examiner looking people interested in being part of a groundbreaking program for kids with autism spectrum disorder, Steve Teece jumped at the chance.

"I had only recently been diagnosed with a mild form of autism about two months before I read the article," he said.

"Going for almost 50 years wondering why I was struggling with mental health issues, only to find out 12 months ago I was autistic, that was a big motivator for me."

After some initial training and using his 20 years experience in the IT sector, Mr Teece became a mentor at The Lab, a series of workshops which use technology to help kids with high functioning autism improve social and technical skills.

Each Saturday two workshops at the New School of Arts in South Grafton, enable kids come together and play computer games, learn about coding and pick apart computers.

"That's what the whole program is geared around, using technology to help these kids learn to communicate and socialise, and computer gaming is one way we can do that," he said.

"It has been really good, the kids have really taken to it. We have seen some incredible improvements in some of the their behaviours and socialisation skills.

"It has just been phenomenal."

Mr Teece said they had begun to break some of the kids into groups to work specifically on coding and they had a long-term goal of developing their own computer game.

"Obviously that is a long term project, but it helps the kids learn to code," he said.

"I have designed the whole program to mimic what they can expect to find in a real world IT environment when they get to it."

Together with co-ordinator Bob Carnaby and a team of mentors, The Lab has grown to cater for up to 40 kids, and Sandi Brien whose son Liam attends the workshops, said the Clarence was lucky to have it.

"He feels like he belongs there, because most people with autism can feel like the don't fit in, they do feel a bit different," Ms Brien said.

"He is meeting different people slowly, which really suits him."

Ms Brien said while there were a lot of "good intentions" there were not a lot of programs available for kids with ASD and it was one of just two versions of The Lab in regional areas across the country.

"There are people that try to understand and try to include, but you need to learn how to do it, which is what Bob spent the time doing," she said.

"This is not just a couple of kids joining the soccer club, this is a pretty diverse group of children.

"We are really fortunate that Bob has been so generous with his time to put it together."

Bob Carnaby said there were kids coming from all around the region to join in the program and there were still a limited number of places available for more to participate.

He also encouraged people with unused laptops to bring them into the program for the kids that were building skills as hardware technicians.

The Lab runs every Saturday morning at the New School of Arts, South Grafton and more information can be found at www.thelab.org.au or by phoning Bob on 0419 610 917.