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Researchers from Victoria University plan to aid kids with Asperger syndrome by helping them learn through interaction with professional programmers and designers.


The location for the project is Footscray in Melbourne's west, primarily because the support in the area for children with an autism spectrum disorder is very low, according to Stefan Schutt, a researcher from VU and one of two people involved in setting up the project.

The programmers in question all work for contractor Dale Linegar on projects for both VU and Monash University, the Canberra Institute of Technology and private businesses.

Once the non-profit project, to be called The Lab, is up and running, hopefully in April, the programmers will spend some of their time each day with eight selected kids who have an interest in computers and design.

The programmers and designers are developing virtual world technologies using OpenSimulator, an open source multi-platform, multi-user 3D application server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols.

The premises in Footscray belonged to a college which went out of business. Only one room was being used at the moment and there was a lot to be done before the project starts, Schutt said.

Schutt and Linegar have both worked with Asperger's kids in Gippsland and Melbourne. During a research project with VicHealth last year, Schutt said they had noticed how children with this affliction tended to migrate towards using technology.

"Kids with Asperger's often have very high IQs and they're really gifted but they don't have the social skills that most other kids do. They can be dysfunctional in the real world, but when you put them in front of a computer they're fantastic," Schutt said.

The Lab would serve a dual purpose - it would give the parents of these children some kind of respite and provide the children with a space to meet others of their ilk and give them a safe place for interaction.

Funding for The Lab is yet to be organised and both Schutt and Linegar hope that some organisation will come forward to support what they are sure is a fantastic way to make children with an autism spectrum disorder become productive members of society.

Schutt and Linegar hope to run the project for five years. For Linegar, it is a project that could illustrate the way a private enterprise - in this case, his own set-up - can get involved in something that is also giving back to society.

 

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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