Words & images I Michelle Wong, Mandurah Neurodiverse CoderDojo
At the Mandurah Neurodiverse1 CoderDojo, capable comes in many shapes, forms and codes! From dancing robots to producing podcasts, if it’s technology-based, these Neurodiverse Ninjas have got all bases covered.
Neurodiverse individuals, including the autistic community, have unique skills such as extreme attention to detail, increased pattern recognition, sustained concentration, and out-of-the-box thinking that make many of them highly capable coders. The head of the Autism Academy of Software Quality Assurance (AASQA), Prof. Tele Tan AM in collaboration with the Curtin Autism Research Group and Mandurah Catholic College, has established a community outreach group for adolescent members of the neurodiverse community to develop and expand on their skills in a variety of technological fields. The Mandurah CoderDojo is one of 4 AASQA CoderDojos, with a fifth opening in Bunbury in the New Year. The club was originally launched with the support of Bankwest who kindly donated 30 surface laptops.
The mission of the Mandurah CoderDojo is to enable participants, (know as Ninjas) to leverage their unique talents through training, educating and mentoring programs, so as to create pathways to valued, long-term employment; whilst addressing the business needs of the ICT industry facing challenges in attracting and retaining valuable talent within the sector.
With future industry development and employment outcomes driving the CoderDojo, the weekly catch ups serve a much greater purpose to the youth participants. The group meets every Saturday during school terms at the Mandurah Catholic College (MCC) Library. MCC kindly donate their space in support of this forward-thinking, community initiative.
The CoderDojo provides a safe, inclusive environment that allows the ninjas to come together and socialise with other neurodiverse friends and share their ideas and projects. For many of the families involved, this is the one outlet that their neurodiverse child can be themselves and enjoy the company of a supportive community.
The capabilities of the Ninjas are uncapped, as they think outside the box to make changes and adaptations to systems and software that you or I may see as impenetrable or in no need of improving. The group coordinator, Michelle Wong is a Mandurah local and member of the Curtin Autism Research Group.
“I see something working and rarely consider how it works. But the ninjas want to know how it works? What can they do to change it? Can it be broken? Yes, they love trying to break programs, software and websites to see what they can do with it. There’s no malice or ulterior motive, they are truly inquisitive and curious about these things and that’s why I love facilitating the group.”
In August this year, Michelle Wong hosted the ‘Autism at Work’ breakfast event in Mandurah, for local business owners and supporters of all-things autism. The breakfast launched the Integrated Employment Success Tool to the Mandurah business community, highlighting the many strengths of autistic employees. The synergy between the Neurodiverse CoderDojo and educating employers on the benefits of working with the autistic community is clear. Supporting employment outcomes for the neurodiverse community supports local industry by providing future skilled workers.
The Mandurah Neurodiverse CoderDojo relies on some amazing volunteer mentors who support the ninjas with their IT tasks, (and to help fix things that break!) Many of the mentors involved are autistic or neurodiverse themselves, and are wonderful role models for the ninjas. The relationships between ninjas and mentors is one of the many positive social outcomes of the group. Some of the projects currently in development are building and choreographing dancing robots utilising tools, 3D printing, sensors and code, animation, 3D game design, game creation and podcast interviews. Last year, the group won a Restart Mandurah Grant from the City of Mandurah in order to purchase the podcast equipment.
Another member of the local community supporting the incredible ninjas and their projects is Professor Lyn Beazley AO. Prof. Beazley was the 2015 Western Australian of the Year and former chief scientist of WA. Prof. Beazley is an ambassador of the AASQA program, acknowledging the talent of the Mandurah ninjas, regularly popping in for a visit. With direct links to further education, work placement and industry, the Mandurah Neurodiverse Ninjas have access to future pathways and support structures to assist them to reach their goals. We are very excited to see more wonderful projects emerging, along with the wonderful community and support structure for neurodiversity, here in the Peel region.
1 The term neurodiverse is used to refer to people with behaviours that are consistent with people with a wide range of mental impairments and does not need to
be viewed only as a disability (Muskat, 2017). Using the term Neurodiverse allows the various communities who work with people with these disorders to refer to
them as a population rather than their specific disorder. (Hosmer 2018)
The Mandurah Neurodiverse CoderDojo welcomes new ninjas (12+) and volunteer mentors to the group.
Please contact Michelle for further information email@example.com
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2021 edition of Peel magazine – read the full article and, if you haven’t already, download the latest edition of the Peel magazine here