A play date, bushwalking adventure, or speaking up in class: these are proud moments for any parents. But for the parents of students at The Lab Hornsby, these are the milestone moments: the stories they share with friends, capture photos of and result in tears – happy tears. These children have high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome and their parents relish in seeing them achieve things they never thought possible.
For one mum, watching her daughter stand up and lead her class in dancing was overwhelming. Bella* had never spoken to another person at The Lab but, when a new video game was projected onto the screen, she got up and started moving to the music. Her mum instantly broke into tears. This is one of many milestone moments taking place at The Lab.
What is the Lab?
The Lab is the collective term for a network of technology clubs that offer computer and technology sessions to young people aged 10 to 16 with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism. The Lab was born out of a VicHealth funded research project called Connected Lives in 2009-10, which explored how technology could be used to improve the wellbeing of young people with multiple forms of disadvantage. At The Lab, young people are mentored by professionals from the technology space. They learn about programming, 3D, digital design and gaming, with the ultimate aim of improving social and personal development.
Mark and Sue Buckle, owners of Just Better Care Hills District, have been involved with The Lab’s Hornsby location since it commenced over five years ago. Speaking to friends and customers, Mark and Sue knew there was a gap to be filled for young people with autism in the community; a place for them to meet and share their enthusiasm for gaming and programming.
“We knew it could offer a great socialisation opportunity for a range of young people who, through no fault of their own, become very socially isolated. The Lab offers young people with Asperger’s or high functioning autism, who have a strong interest in computing, the opportunity to come together in a friendly and appropriately supported group: to have fun, make friends, and learn new things. We watch so many of them grow in confidence, developing great friendships, and growing significantly in their communication skills,” Mark said.
“These young people can have difficulties at school, making friends and generally not fitting into the mainstream. Most are not interested in weekend sport at all and would prefer to play games on their computer every waking hour. It’s amazing to see, after one session at The Lab, the vast majority of young people can’t wait to come back the next week. Parents tell us that Saturday is the one morning of the week that their kids jump out of bed early and can’t wait to get to The Lab session.”
“The Lab Hornsby has now been operating for five and a half years. It’s hard to believe, but it’s still as exciting to me as the day we commenced, watching the participants develop skills that are so easily taken for granted.”
To find out more about The Lab Hornsby, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www. justbettercare.com/hills-hornsby