By Jesutomi Akomolafe

Globally, a case study has shown that when young adults with special needs integrate with the use of Robotics in life skills, particularly in a repetitive way, it can be a useful tool for enhancing their socialization skills, moreover, new forms of interaction can be proposed in future works in order to stimulate further cognitive and emotional advancements of children and young adults with disabilities.

In commemoration of the World Autism Month of April, the Special Needs Initiative for Growth conducted the STEM, Robotics and Drones Workshop for young adults with Autism of the Patrick Speech Language Center and their special needs educators to enable them discover and scale their passion in STEM, robotics and Drones, so that they can start as early as possible to achieve its maximum efficiency at school, socially and eventually prepare them for a future in the Nigerian labour market.

In Nigeria, one out of every 125-150 children has the Autism condition. This amounts to about 600,000 Nigerian children. The burden this places on the child, his/her family, the society, and the nation at large is unquantifiable, and not only on the nation’s social services but also on its GDP. The greater cost is the loss in harnessing the potential in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) due to inaction and neglect. There’s no way to prevent autism spectrum disorder, but there are treatment options. Early diagnosis and intervention is most helpful and can improve behavior, skills and language development. However, intervention is helpful at any age. Though children usually don’t outgrow autism spectrum disorder symptoms, they may learn to function well.

The theme for World Autism Day (WAD 2021) is ‘Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World’. Autism-friendly events and educational activities take place all month, aiming to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, foster worldwide support and inspire a kinder, more inclusive world. That is why the Special Needs Initiative for Growth is connecting the self-advocates into education technology activities, which is preparing them for the future of work in a post-COVID-19 World.

The workshop was supported by Sifax Group, Barack Obama American Corner Victoria Island, Global Air Drone Academy and ARPG Tech who provided technical, educational mentorship and educational resources to the young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder to promote a multicultural learning culture through digital skills.

There was a representation of over 30 participants inclusive of beneficiaries, partners, instructors, facilitators and educators.
The project commenced with the Global Air Drones Academy team for the drones session in the persons of Mr. Tobi Oluwole and Stephan Iheakam who engaged the students and educators on properties of a drone, the benefits of a drone as well as shared deep insight on how to couple a quadcopter drone through a real practical assembling. They also learnt how to affix the propellers of a drone and identify colours such as black & white for a clockwise movement and red & blue for an anticlockwise movement in terms of the internal property.

Read Also: Special Needs Students set up pop-up store from recycled materials

The second aspect of the project enabled a classification into two groups of trainees who created various schematic pieces to construct robots, buggies and devices while ensuring they can physically “move” or “operate” together to successfully and repeatedly perform a given task. Trainees and their special educators got to build electronics, and learn about basic physics, electricity, and how electronic devices work.

Some of the feedback from the Patrick Speech Language Center educators indicated that the workshop for the young adults with autism enabled them to interact more freely and could even go beyond the instructions given by the special needs facilitators while engaging with the drones and robotics. They also expressed verbal and non-verbal communication, indicating excitement during the interaction.The self-presentation was crucial to help children feel more comfortable and create an environment of positive interaction.

The Young adults with Autism also commenced an internship with Brainiacs STEM and Robotics, an education technology company set up to nurture the next generation of technology entrepreneurs in Africa.

Brainiacs STEM and Robotics supported the self-advocates on getting to know more about Brainiacs STEM and Robotics Working Culture, ethics, and responsibilities. The interns engaged in practical activities related to communications, team collaboration and other working tasks. The young adults with Autism were provided personal and professional counseling, with the experience of a culturally diverse environment and lots of fun moments.

Racheal Inegbedion, the Executive Director and Project Team Lead of the Special Needs initiative for Growth stated that the STEM, Robotics and Drones annual project is a long term goal for the organization to empower the special needs community which is focusing on demand-driven IT entrepreneurship and career development to enable either employment or self-employment, after which they are mentored, supported to secure an internship or job, or given a small grant to start a business.

Mr. Muyiwa Akande, the Corporate Affairs Manager of Sifax Group stated that the Sifax Group Corporate social responsibility with Special Needs Initiative for Growth is helping to reduce unequal opportunities for persons with disabilities so that after they have been trained, they can become creators of STEM and Robotics, exposing themselves to opportunities of entrepreneurship and career development in the nearest future.

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