About The Lab

What is the Lab?

Mentors helping in a Lab holiday session

The Lab is a growing network of technology clubs for 10 to 16 year-old young people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism who enjoy working with computers. It offers one-to-one tuition by technology professionals in areas such as programming, 3D, digital design and gaming. The Lab started in April 2011 with a single weekly group in Footscray, Melbourne. The concept proved popular and The Lab has since expanded to a number of locations in Victoria (Maidstone, Werribee, Doncaster, Geelong), New South Wales (Hornsby, Blacktown, Dee Why) and Darwin, with more Labs on the way in 2014. The Lab is guided by an incorporated national not-for-profit company, The Lab Network, and each local Lab is formed and managed by a local partner organisation.

The Lab’s approach to learning emerged out of previous projects run by its founders, a Victoria University researcher and a software developer. By pairing young people who have Asperger’s Syndrome/High Functioning Autism with tutors who have technical expertise in areas of mutual interest, The Lab seeks to improve the wellbeing and life prospects of young people who are often highly skilled but whose condition can lead them to fall through gaps in the mainstream education system.

At each weekly two-hour Lab session, two or more computer programmers and designers work individually with between 12 and 20 young people to develop their technology skills and interests. Young people also learn social skills and make friends with others who share their interests. Parents meet in a separate room to swap notes ans strategies.

The aim of The Lab is to develop a practical model that can be adopted by others. Its name and logo is deliberately neutral to avoid stigmatising participants, and to focus on their potential rather than the fact that they have Asperger’s Syndrome.

The project team includes technologists, educators, a project manager and support workers for parents and participants. A parent support group is being developed, as well as an online clearing house of information for carers and young people.

At the Lab, we are committed to ensuring the safety of children in our care. We put this into practice via a range of policies and protocols, including screening of those working with children, training programs and complaints procedures. For more information on child protection please see http://www.aihw.gov.au/child-protection/#report

How did it start?

One participant helps another

The Lab started with a 2009 – 2010 VicHealth funded research project, Connected Lives, that looked into the possibilities of using technology to improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged young people. The team found that one-on-one technology tuition worked particularly well with young people with Asperger’s Syndrome. At the same time, the team needed a space to run its expanding number of specialist technology projects.

Inspiration for The Lab has also come through writer Dave Eggers’ 826 Valencia Project, which sees workers on Eggers’ McSweeney’s literary magazine undertaking one-on-one literacy tuition with disadvantaged children. McSweeney’s workers are located in a shopfront premises alongside an after-school literacy drop in centre.

Educationally, The Lab is influenced by constructivist theories of technology-enhanced learning such as Greg Kearsley and Ben Shneiderman’s Engagement Theory, Axel Bruns’ Produsage, Greg Ulmer’s Electracy, Mitch Resnick’s Constructionism and the work of Professor Henry Jenkins. These theories focus on the importance of focused, meaningful activities that deploy digital technology to build on the interests of young people.