Local mother Monika Ryan is the inspiration behind the creation of a social hub in Bega for children with autism.
“I found out an Autism Lab was running in Footscray in Melbourne so I contacted them and asked if I could start something here,” Ms Ryan said.
“They were very forthcoming and so I connected with the Bega Valley Natural Learners Group and started a Facebook page.”
Over two months parents began to make contact and the hub began to take shape.
The hub ran its first session on Tuesday and uses technology in a social atmosphere to help build social relationships between the children, whose first mentor is Bega Valley Shire Council’s programs and partnerships officer Scott Baker.
“It’s not just about games and computers and computer technology, it’s more about kids on the spectrum connecting with each other,” Ms Ryan said.
“The kids might find they have other interests in common and become social and happy.
“Scott [Baker] has embraced the whole project and he has a computer background so it’s great to have him as our first mentor.”
Mr Baker said he was “blown away” by not only the high level of technology-based skills the children have, but also their creative application of their knowledge.
“I saw projects where these kids were creating digital artworks, using game engines to create short films, writing new levels for their video games and doing character designs,” he said.
“Even though it was a program started in a major metropolitan city the framework is easily applied to a regional location such as the Bega Valley Shire.
“The success of the first session with 10 participants from the ages of nine to 16 demonstrates how needed these type of programs are in our region.”
One participant for the afternoon session was 16-year-old Kaelem Marshall-Grey from Toothdale.
“It’s pretty good, there’s quite nice people here and the best thing is everyone is a gamer,” Kaelem said.
Kaelem said he had more fun gaming with others in a social environment as the new friends could share ideas.
Kaelem’s mother Cara Grey said her son was having so much fun he gave her a “fist pump” during the session.
“These kids seem to be drawn to computers so it is a good tool that can hopefully inject them into the community,” she said.
“Sometimes you’ll find kids don’t have any friends and it can really delay their development.”
Ms Ryan said the sessions are also open to children with anxiety issues.
“We are all people, we are all different issues and if someone is stressed there is a reason for that and it’s okay to be stressed… you are okay.”
At this point the lab sessions are full and people can contact Mr Baker at the Bega library to be placed on a waiting list on 6499 2172 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.