U of U recognized for efforts to help kids with autism

Posted at 9:56 PM, Dec 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-07 23:56:21-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A program developed by a University of Utah research team is gaining a lot of attention for its work with children on the autism spectrum.

The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, along with the startup  "Neuro-versity" received the Social Enterprise Award at its Ninth Annual Dignity Through Work Recognition event.

The program helps kids with autism learn the skills needed so they can find a job.

“It’s been life changing for everyone on our team that’s been involved in this,” said Cheryl Wright, who is a University of Utah Professor in the department of family and consumer studies.

Cheryl and Scott Wright started a program four years ago in order to help kids with autism learn valuable skills that will help them land future jobs.

“There’s so many kids on the spectrum that are really brilliant, and they have so many special skills and they’re not always evident,” Cheryl Wright said.

The Wrights developed the program to help the kids gain job skills in the technology field, but soon they discovered the kids picked up social skills as well.

“They had a lot of social engagement with each other, social engagement with their families, and social engagement with the community," Wright said.

Mason, 17, is one of the students in the program.

“I think it's great because just there’s so much you can do with it, like, the sky’s the limit really,” he said.

His mother, Denise Dimock, is also a fan of the program.

“It’s something that’s been an avenue for him to be creative, but while also learning skills,” she said. “He can do things that people are doing right now in jobs, in designing.”

In fact, Mason has made it big-time already. This summer he got to participate in a real-world project through Big D Construction.

“We basically all helped design a building, and we had to design the wall panels to certain measurements and the floor textiles and stuff,” he said.

And he's become so good in the program that he's now teaching it to other students.

“It’s really kind of fun to know that you’re helping another student get better at something,” he said.

At the end of the day, they don't only leave with usable job skills, but they make friends as well.

“They have shared interests, and they are able to connect with each other and I would say most of the kids leave with friendships and they’re so excited when we bring them back together as a group and have them work together again,” Wright said.

Because of funding, the program can only serve nine to 10 kids a year. But Cheryl Wright hopes they'll be able to get enough funding to expand and help more kids on the autism spectrum in the future.