Monday, 7th November, 2016
By Michael Murphy
An innovative robotics program could set people with autism in the Silver City on a path to meaningful employment.
A local support group has set up a line of communication with a ground-breaking academy for “people in the spectrum” at Curtin University in Western Australia.
The Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance aims to harness the special talents of people with autism.
Academy associate Robert Williamson, who grew up in Broken Hill but now lives in Perth, returned to the city this week and met with the president of the local autism support group, Stacey Evers.
“What we have found through the Autism Academy, in Australia now and other parts of the world, people in the spectrum have been found to be very, very good at finding bugs in software,” Mr Williamson said.
“It’s not hard to educate students at university and give them certification in software testing,” he said.
“The focus of people in the spectrum in looking for problems in software code, has been recognised by some of the biggest software companies in the world, and they have a required intake number of people in the spectrum to go into these software testing teams, especially in Europe.”
Mr Williamson, through his private company Red River Group, will fund a robotics program for local students with autism.
“There are possibly a large number of people in the spectrum in Broken Hill,” Mr Williamson said.
“And what I was suggesting with Stacey, especially with the primary and secondary kids, that we create a robotics club.”
While Mr Williamson will cover the hardware and training program costs, the local support group needs a venue and volunteers to help run the club over six-to-eight week stints with students aged eight years and up.
The students will built a robot and write code to command it.
It’s not known exactly how many people in Broken Hill have autism, though a general figure implies one in 68 people have it, which translates to about 260 people in the Silver City.
Ms Evers said she was delighted in forming an alliance with Mr Williamson.
“By working together we can increase the reach of my network and start to increase the things that I am trying to do here, because I am really passionate about it,” said Ms Evers, whose son Dylan was diagnosed when he was three.
“People with autism have a lot to contribute to our communities and society in general, and sometimes because of their difficulties with certain areas they find it difficult to hold down what you would call a normal job,” she said.
“But if we can work with them on their strengths then they can be a real asset to many companies.”
The robotics club will start off as a small group and will be free for students with autism.