How Tekkie Uni’s Accessible Format Helped a Student With Autism
When 10-year-old Enzo Luciano Ortiz expressed interest in learning how to code, his mother, Irene Santander, was pleased.
Luciano was going through a difficult time; the family had moved from their home in Argentina to Florida in the United States in February. Late in the school year, Luciano found himself in a new home and a new school. He didn’t speak English and his teacher spoke no Spanish. It was a tough time, so when Luciano said he wanted to learn how to program, Irene was eager to support his interests.
She found Tekkie Uni through a Facebook ad and it seemed perfect. It was a child-appropriate coding class, and Luciano could learn from home. Irene had some reservations, however. Luciano has autism, and she wasn’t sure he’d do well in an online course.
“I didn’t know if he’d pay attention, if he would understand the requirements of the course, or be able to follow the instructions,” she said.
She enrolled him anyhow. She didn’t mention Luciano’s autism to his teacher, but she sat with him in the beginning, to help him understand how the class worked, and make sure he was comfortable. But Luciano did more than like the course. Irene found that he was thriving in an environment with his peers — no one knew he had autism, and he was treated just the same as his peers.
“He’s done it all by himself. I haven’t helped with anything,” said Irene. “I just check in and see what he’s doing.”
A class set-up that works for neurodiversity in students
As with many children with autism, Luciano is not an expressive communicator. This can lead to difficulties, especially when he’s trying to overcome the English-Spanish language gap in school.
Tekkie Uni’s classes are unique in that class is held with students’ cameras off. Students communicate with the instructor and their fellow students over voice and chat. This is done for several reasons — children often get distracted by the cameras, for example — but it worked well for Luciano, who did most of his communication through typed chat messages with his instructor, Andrea.
The ability to choose the method of communication most comfortable for him allowed Luciano to feel as comfortable as any of his peers in the course, and to get the feedback he needed from the instructor when and how he needed it.
Taking responsibility for his own actions
For Irene, one of the greatest benefits of this class is that Luciano has become responsible for his own schedule, something that’s new for him. Like many children with autism, Luciano struggles with executive function. This means he has trouble following directions with multiple steps; if his mother tells him to get ready for school, an instruction that means “make your bed, get dressed and come to breakfast” he’s often not able to do that without Irene standing with him, giving him each direction individually.
The coding course was good for him because Luciano’s instructor presented each step the class needed to do in order, so Luciano was easily able to follow the steps and create a project. He was also so motivated by the course that he’s set up systems to remind himself when class is, and what homework he needs to do, all on his own.
It took a mishap for him to take this responsibility on himself; this year Irene’s birthday fell on a class day, and Luciano forgot that he had class. Missing class bothered him so much, he put a reminder on his phone. Now an alarm goes off half an hour before class and Luciano settles in at the computer, ready to learn.
“I like that it has made him responsible for his schedule,” she said. “This is important; with autism, children must learn to take on responsibility little by little.”
Learning to overcome frustration
There have been some challenges. Sometimes Luciano has had trouble with some of the assignments, but no more than any other child. And he was also able to solve his own problems with the help of his teacher, who was available to answer questions via chat and guide Luciano through any problems he had.
“I like that he has not been frustrated,” said Irene, who said in the past, when things have not gone Luciano’s way, he would become frustrated and want to quit. Now, Irene is starting to see him overcome frustration in his daily life.
Luciano’s final project for the class was a gift for his older sister, who still lives in Buenos Aires. His big sister, who is 23, has been very supportive of her little brother as he learned coding. Because she loves cats, Luciano made a Hello Kitty-inspired game for her. Players earn points by catching flowers.
That newfound creativity has been a wonderful surprise for his mother, who says Luciano’s autism meant he did not play like other children.
“He was a different boy,” she said. “He never played with toys. He lined his cars up side by side, but he never played with them. I bought him toys that went into a drawer.”
Now, she says, his creativity has been sparked.
Making learning accessible for every student
Over the course of the coding class, Irene has seen Luciano mature a lot. She doesn’t know if he’s going to go into coding or application development as an adult but appreciates that he now has a baseline — he’s started programming, and he has an idea about what sorts of things he enjoys doing.
“Maybe he wants to be a systems analyst or maybe a programmer or maybe another career, “said Irene. “There are many creative children who build things, and this is what I would like him to develop. “
Luciano is currently starting a second course, and his mother encourages parents of children with autism to try signing their own kids up for a programming class.
“There are parents who say ‘I don’t want them to be stuck in the computer all day,’ but I would say that this is the future, and it’s a good way to be creative and a good way for them to take responsibility for their lives,” she said. “And for children with autism, I think it’s good.”