To help mark this year’s World Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd) we’ve put together some information about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the work we’re doing at The Benevolent Society to support people with autism to live the life that they choose. 

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? 

People on the autism spectrum can experience difficulties communicating, socialising, performing repetitive tasks, and are often accompanied by sensory oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sounds, smell or touch. Autism is a lifelong diagnosis and the difficulties can lead to behavioral challenges in some individuals. 

Displays of autism present differently in each individual, making its causes difficult to determine. Just like everyone else, people with autism have a range of abilities and challenges.  

An infographic comparing a traditional view of the autism spectrum with a modern view. The traditional view is a line with a gradient on it and labels on each end saying more autistic and less autistic. The modern view is a series of concentric circles broken up into different sections as language, motor skills, executive function, perception and sensory.

What are the signs of autism? 

ASD can be diagnosed in children as young as two based on behavioral observations and formal assessment by a medical professional. In some cases, the impacts of autism on an individual won’t become apparent until they start school. 

Spotting the signs of early autism in young children can be difficult because many of the signs are common to all children, but they are observed more frequently in children or adults diagnosed with autism.   

Some common signs children with ASD include: 

  • Avoiding or lacking eye contact in social situations 
  • Avoiding social situations and preferring to be alone 
  • Difficulty interpreting non-verbal communication in peers or adults 
  • Developing an obsessive interest in certain toys or objects while ignoring other items 
  • Development of distinct repetitive movements such as handshaking, flapping, prolonged rocking, or spinning of objects 

  • It is not advised that you try and diagnose your child using these cues, they are merely a guide for you to initiate a conversation with your doctor or pediatrician. If you have any doubts, speak to your family physician. 

    What we’re doing at The Benevolent Society to support people with ASD 

    The Lab in South Australia 

    The Lab is a technology club that allows children and teenagers on the autism spectrum to meet like-minded peers and create friendships while learning valuable technical skills that complement their interest in technology. It is run weekly in unstructured sessions that allow participants to explore topics at their own pace and engage with a like-minded community on a common topic. 

    A young boy building a robotic looking car.

    These sessions are facilitated by mentors who have a deep interest in the topic they are hosting. In previous sessions, we’ve had mentors who have run programming workshops, explored 3D and digital design as well as video game creation. Participants are encouraged to pick and choose sessions they want to attend based on their interest. 

    Depending on the topic, some participants may need to bring their own equipment such as a gaming console to participate fully, however this is not a requirement and attendees will still be able to benefit from attending being around like-minded individuals. 

    Who can attend The Lab? 

    The Lab is open to children aged 10 –16 years with ASD who have a strong interest in technology and are currently receiving services from the NDIS. As The Lab isn’t classified as a therapeutic service, it can be claimed through the core funding from a recipient’s NDIS allocation and therefore doesn’t impact a family’s ability to make a claim against therapeutic services.  

    A group of children with their mentor around a 3D printer

    This program is available in Melrose Park, Salisbury, Mount Gambier and Port Pirie with different mentors and topics available at each location. Be sure to check the topic that is being covered before you attend to ensure that it is of interest for your child. 

    Enrolment is as simple as contacting our customer support team on 1800 236 762 or customercare@benevolent.org.au 

    What are the benefits of The Lab? 

    As a socially-focused program, The Lab seeks to improve the well-being and life prospects of young people who are often highly skilled but can fall through the gaps. Young people can share interests, aspirations and develop friendships whilst also receiving professional and life experience through our mentors. 

    Other benefits can include: 

    • Development of new friendships
    • Improved happiness and motivation levels 
    • Improved mental health 
    • Development of technical skills 
    • Awareness of career possibilities in IT and programming 

    For carers, The Lab can also provide some much-needed respite on Saturdays to relax after a stressful week or to complete errands that fell to the wayside in a busy week. 

    Meet one of The Lab’s mentors, Justin 

    Justin has a variety of interests that he brings to his sessions, which he aims to be an open and friendly social environment distinct from school to foster communication and relationship building skills. 

    A group of children playing on their iPads

    The inspiration behind this approach was based on his own experiences growing up. “I couldn’t find the help that I needed when I was younger,” he says. “As a personal support worker, I try my best to give the support that I didn’t have available to me.” 

    Team Leader in South Australia, Flora, has seen first-hand how Justin’s approach has been a positive influence for his clients. “Justin’s clients really open up under his direction. We had a child who was really looking forward to their session all week just so they could show Justin the city they had built within a game making program,” says Flora. “These little moments are what make The Lab a valuable experience for young children with autism. They can often be left behind but having a space where they are supported developmentally can have a profound impact on their quality of life.” 

    For more information about The Lab, please visit our webpage or call our support centre on 1800 236 762