Point of View

Potential technology workers with autism an overlooked NC asset

June 11, 2014 

For seven years, I have taught computer and information technology courses at a local community college. I have seen numerous students who have come to learn how to build a computer, network a system or maybe design a website. It continues to surprise me how many students appear to have Asperger’s syndrome or have autism.

I see their training as a new frontier that schools and businesses are missing to meet the high demand of computer programmers and technicians that companies will have in upcoming years.

I bring this up as the father of an autistic child who has been very fortunate to live in North Carolina and have great services that help with his speech to his social skills. What concerns me are the opportunities for him when he becomes a college-age adult. There are programs that focus on providing job skills for special needs teens and adults, but not many for when they “age” out of the system.

I see a great opportunity for the state and technology companies to work together to train employees who might have autism as the next great computer programmers or mobile and web application developers. On a national level, we see how politicians on both sides are seeking to increase visas with the hope of bringing in more immigrants to provide workers for employers who need programmers. Why go to another country if we can train here?

We should work together to develop programs that train high-functioning autistic people to fill these positions that companies claim to need. Many autistic people just lack social skills that can be provided through training at our community colleges or universities. Many, like my son, Jackson, have brilliant memories and just need to learn social skills and how to work in teams to meet the needs of companies.

North Carolina has a long tradition in investing in our secondary and university system. With many believing the system spends too much money on items that won’t provide job skills to serve North Carolina, teaching technology to autistic students would meet the needs of both the General Assembly and local businesses. The best thing is we grow them here to serve.

Businesses and lawmakers should look at hubs at smaller schools to provide courses with teaching and training geared to what these students need in programming or networking.

We always read about buying North Carolina wine, vacationing in North Carolina or shopping local. I call on technology and the state to invest in local kids who can help companies now.

Ken Robol lives in Greenville.

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