Young people with autism gain tech skill — and more — at Code Camp in Boca

In a conference room, tucked away in the corner of a sixth-floor workspace in Boca Raton, a group of students on the autism spectrum were hard at work alongside a team of mentors analyzing data, identifying trends and creating visualizations of their findings.

The activity, which mimicked collaborative efforts commonly found in workplaces, was part of the inaugural iRISE2 ECL Code Camp, that was created to help students with autism and other related disabilities develop skills in the field of technology, as well as provide coaching on resume creation and interviewing.

The two-day camp, sponsored and staffed by LexisNexis Risk Solutions and FAU’s iRISE2 Mentoring Program, was comprised of high school and college students ages 16-25.

The first day of the program, held on Wednesday, covered data application and presentation.

The students were first tasked with analyzing data sets and then forming and testing hypotheses based on the data. Finally, they had to present their findings to a panel of mentors, who rated the presentations and chose winnners. Prizes included a pair of Kindles, two phone-charging kits and goodie bags.

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The agenda for the camp’s final day focused on skills and activities geared toward gaining employment, internships or mentorships.

“(These students) do have disabilities, but they are thriving,” said Darius Murray, iRISEMentoring program coordinator. “They are putting back into the community, they have self-worth, and they are actually changing the culture of the workplace, rather than the workplace changing them.”

Danny Goldstein, who graduated from Palm Beach State in May with a certificate in computer programming, said attending the camp has improved his overall programming skills, and he hopes the knowledge he’s gained will help him land a job as a computer programmer.

“This event will really help me improve my interviewing skills and my resume,” Goldstein said.

“We are always looking for good talent,” said Dr. Flavio Villanustre, vice president of technology at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, whose company sponsored the code camp. “The fact that they may be dealing with autism doesn’t mean that they have an impairment of their cognitive abilities. They may be geniuses and that makes them potentially excellent people to join the company.”

“It opens doors, I think, for us and for them,” said Villanustre of the code camp event. “They may find something that they like to do, or they may be very good at doing, and build a career in it, and for us we can find good talent that otherwise would be untapped.”

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The iRISEMentoring program has had success placing mentees into the workforce through their annual iRISEdisability mentoring day, where mentees are provided a four-hour job shadowing experience at local companies. According to Murray, two people who attended mentoring day last year ended up with jobs.

In addition to his work with iRISE2, Murray also runs the first and only “girls who code” program in the country that is autism-based, in which nine young ladies are currently learning python coding language. 

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