Expansion of the online tech club for young people with autism

The Lab, Australia’s world-first technology club for young people with autism, continues to grow during COVID-19 with increasing demand for its online mentoring and is poised for a national expansion of its network as COVID restrictions relax.

The Lab is a weekly club where young people on the autism spectrum aged 10 – 18 get help from tech-savvy mentors to share interests and develop skills in areas such as social gaming and game development, programming, video making and digital design.

Thanks to the funding partnership of two of the nation’s largest philanthropic organisations, Gandel Foundation and Equity Trustees as manager of The Lynne Quayle Charitable Trust, The Lab Network has been supported to establish a national network of community-based clubs and an online community for all young Australians on the spectrum with tech-based interests.

The expansion follows ten years of face-to-face operations, with the first Lab in Melbourne’s west in 2020 growing to 30 community-based Labs across VIC, NSW, QLD and SA. In the past two years alone, the number of local Labs has doubled. However, due to social distancing restrictions forcing Lab closures in March, The Lab has rapidly expanded its online interest-based mentoring service. There are now up to ten online ‘Lab sessions’ per week for groups of up to 15 participants.

Chair of The Lab Network, Paul Staubli said that Labs differ from other services and activities by creating safe, inclusive spaces that enhance both the social and technical skills of youth on the spectrum.

“Adolescence is a particularly challenging time for most people. The Lab provides safe places – in person and online – for young people who face significant barriers to success both academically and socially to explore their interests, develop their strengths and thrive,” Mr Staubli said.

A long-standing partner, Gandel Foundation has supported The Lab since early 2017, initially helping them strengthen the-then small-scale, but unique community-based program for young people with autism.

“This latest support to expand the reach and the impact of The Lab Network is a natural progression for Gandel Foundation, and we are confident they will continue to make a material difference in the lives of more and more young people with autism, as well as their families,” Vedran Drakulic OAM, the CEO of Gandel Foundation said.

“Equity Trustees is delighted to fund The Lab, as they continue their growth to meet the increasing demand for their online and face to face labs. We know they have provided a vital service for young people with autism during the restrictions of COVID. We are looking forward to that continuing as we come out of restrictions,” Emily Cormack, Equity Trustees Children and Young People Grant Manager said.

As physical distancing restrictions lift, The Lab Network is aiming to help more communities than before set up and run Labs across the country.

“The Lab Network can provide resources and help for local communities across the country to give access to these supportive spaces and opportunities for young people with autism. Anyone can organise and run a Lab. We hope to engage more communities, governments and service providers across Australia to open local Labs for young people on the spectrum and their families in 2021,” Mr Staubli concluded.