Program teaches computer science to special-needs kids

SEATTLE—The ongoing shortage of computer-science graduates has some of our area’s biggest employers looking for future workers in new places. They’re taking their pitch to a middle-school classroom, tapping into the talents of students with special needs.

There's no shortage of dreams in this middle-school classroom at the Academy for Precision Learning. Seventh-grader Ben Hudgings has an interest in global warming. "I wanted to be a scientist when I grow up. I wanted to be an animal biologist," he said.

Sixth-grader Logan Pierce loves computers. "Making video games is definitely my thing. Developer, yeah," he said.

Most of these classmates have autism, which can be a huge barrier to getting a job. Katie Hart knows how hard it is to be on the spectrum and make it past the first interview.

"I wouldn't answer any questions if they asked if I had a disability,” she said. “I was kind of afraid they would discriminate against my disability."

A year ago, Hart landed a job at Microsoft through the company's autism hiring program. The interview process lasts two weeks, allowing more time for talent and ability to shine through. Now, she is sharing her experience through a program called TEALS that puts volunteers from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google into schools, teaching computer science.

This is the volunteers' first time at a school that primarily serves students with autism. The TEALS program has been coming to the school all year, and during Computer Science Education Week, brought an Hour of Code to the middle-schoolers. They're tapping into plenty of talent.

Ninth-grader Henry Sikora helped teach the younger students coding. "A lot of people like to do art and music or painting or something. My art form is video games, and so without code, I'd really be nowhere,” Henry said. “Anyway, I use code to make video games."

These students might have autism, but they also have dreams. And they're learning, those dreams can turn into real careers

"Yeah, it's very fun. I get to make exploding sheeps." Logan said with a huge grin and two thumbs up.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off