Before The Lab, Ben Fulwood didn't plan to get his HSC.
The technology-based program for young people with high-functioning autism at the Ropes Crossing Community Hub has reinforced the year 10 student's interest in IT.
He is keen to study technology or veterinary science when he graduates from high school.
"I like that everything is relaxed," Ben said of the program.
"It makes me feel like everyone understands me and I'm basically free to do whatever I want — which in my case is make games."
Ben's father Matt said The Lab, run by business and education program provider BREED, had given Ben more social skills without them being explicitly taught.
"Because he has to explain to other people here what he's doing, he can talk the information out properly so other kids can understand what he's going on about and his information is right," Mr Fulwood said.
"Ben doesn't like Yu-Gi-Oh! but he's in there playing Yu-Gi-Oh! with some of the other kids.
"That's not something you normally get out of a person with autism. If they don't like something they just don't do it."
Mr Fulwood said The Lab was one of the few group activities Ben looked forward to. He said getting a person on the autism spectrum to commit to a team sport such as soccer was difficult because they felt the pressure of being perceived as different.
"If you got to a party with your child and they're a bit out there there seems to always be a problem, but here there has never been an incident," Mr Fulwood said.
"When they go off on a tangent they're accepted."
Juanita Pinder said her son Jai, 11, had made a new friend at the mainstream school he attends about a year ago, after the program gave him the confidence to talk to others about games and technology.
"He doesn't care that my son's in a support class or a year younger, because they've got too many interest in common," she said.
"Because [Jai] was so excited about it, he's been happy to tell everybody about the IT club and it snowballed from that.
"Jai loves the space. They're all very accepting. He's definitely come out of his shell a lot since he started."
Mrs Pinder said the parent support group that runs at the same time as the boys' technology club gave her the chance to talk to other parents and see how they have handled their sons' transition to high school, work experience and other challenges.
‘‘I’m not there yet, so I like listening to what’s coming my way and getting advice or tips on how to handle it,’’ she said.
‘‘That’s really helpful for me.’’
Project builds on success
Following The Lab’s success, BREED is one of four organisations nationally that will pilot a program to increase entrepreneurial and social skills and employment opportunities for young people with autism.
The Digital Enterprise project will run in partnership with the University of South Australia, funded by the federal government to get more young people with autism spectrum disorders or acquired brain injuries into higher education.
The two hour sessions for ages 10 to 20 at the Ropes Crossing Comunity Hub will be the only ones in NSW. Participants aged 16 to 20 will take part in collaborative programming, game-making and digital design activities supported by online training and business modules.
An interactive on-line resource centre for parents is also planned to compliment the free program and parent support group.