Chris has participated for the past year and a half in workshops at the University of Utah to teach 3D modeling software by Google called SketchUp. Cheryl Wright, associate professor of family and consumer studies, coordinated the workshops in partnership with Google’s Project Spectrum, an initiative to teach job skills to kids with autism. Steve Gross, a certified SketchUp instructor and designer for Universal Creative theme parks, leads the workshops.
Wright and her team soon found far greater benefits to these workshops than acquiring a skill set for potential employment, however. The sessions facilitated social engagement among the students and their peers, parents, siblings and even grandparents.
They have published a study about these findings in the December issue of Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal. The study focuses on the effects of the workshops on individual students involved as well as on multiple generations within their families— an uncommon opportunity in the research on social interactions of people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
After just weeks in the workshops, Christopher Charles’ parents noticed a big difference. “Christopher spends hours on his design projects,” says his father Nik. “There are few activities that have been able to hold Christopher’s attention like SketchUp.” In fact, Christopher once noted that he wouldn’t miss the SketchUp sessions “even if aliens invaded the Earth.”
Each session was two hours long and included hands-on training in the use of the design program as well as time for students to share their design projects. At the end of six weeks, the participants, all boys, presented their designs to classmates at their schools and at community events.
“One of the most compelling parts of this program came from when the boys presented their findings to their classmates,” says Wright, who notes that children with autism sometimes struggle in a regular school setting, where their disability is highlighted more than their talents.
“Their talents are often invisible. In our program, we provided a platform for their talents to shine,” she says. Many of the parents of participants were pleased that the workshops had developed self-confidence in their children, and noted that this made the parents more confident about what their children will be able to accomplish in the future.
Just as an engineer might use SketchUp to design a bridge from one side of a canyon to another, Wright and her team noticed that the SketchUp sessions were building bridges between generations within a family.
“This is a very exciting outcome of this study,” Wright explains. “We were really given a wonderful opportunity to study a different aspect of ASD with the multi-generational model that we used in the workshops.”
Wright says that there were different types of intergenerational relationships that the researchers were able to analyze: parent-to-child, grandparent-to-grandchild, and grandparent-to-adult-child. In addition, the sibling relationships of the boys were studied.
The parents of the workshop participants mentioned a greater ability to connect with their child with ASD. As Chris’s father noted, new conversations were sparked in speaking about what they learned and in sharing their designs. “He now teaches me how to do things with SketchUp. The other day, we designed a wall for his bedroom. I don’t see us doing that before the workshops, even if we had the technical ability to use the software.”
Similarly, the boys’ siblings no longer viewed their brother as a source of embarrassment, but as someone who could teach them and others how to use the design tool. “You can just see the pride on his sister’s face when Chris is presenting his work,” Kay says. “She even acts as his assistant sometimes in the presentations. That did not happen before.”
Wright’s program provided many opportunities for grandparents to participate in the workshops. Six grandparents were labeled by the researchers as “active” grandparents and had a particular investment in their grandsons with ASD.
The researchers noticed that the communication between the grandparents of the boys with their adult child (the boys’ parent) increased significantly after the workshops. There seemed to be less shame associated with the child’s autism. One parent noted the grandparents now had something “they could be proud of.”
not exactly news: Autistic kids are good at detailed 3d work. Being good at something makes you feel more confident. news at 11
but still, nice thing to read about.