How Young Autistic Adults Can Learn to Make Apps

by Tim on April 20, 2015

I want to tell you about a brilliant initiative to help young autistic adults learn how to make apps for iPhones and similar devices. I see this as being a possible game-changer for thousands of autistic people in learning skills that are both marketable and fun.

The Empower Autism campaign arose from a partnership with LiveCode in Edinburgh, Scotland and the National Autistic Society, Specialisterne, and Autism Initiatives. They are currently raising money and registering students on Indiegogo.

Their goal is to train 3,000 young adults on the autism spectrum, across the world, how to code. They will provide an extensive training program with specialist support to help these young adults develop employment skills or gain self-employment in the app business. This project could open so many doors for young adults on the spectrum in terms of employment and entrepreneurship.

Young boy in bedroom using laptop and listening to MP3 playerI was amazed to discover that for only $99 autistic persons can get 6-12 months of app development training designed specifically to help people reach the level where they can create their own apps. I’ve never seen an app development program at this price offer this much support and community, and I’ve especially not seen a training program like it for people on the spectrum.

Along the way, students will learn how to re-create 20 existing Apple apps so they can experience how the development process works and see for themselves that they can create something like the ‘pros’ can.

No prior programming or software experience is required. The only requirement is that the student must be 13 years of age or older, autistic, and have an interest in learning how to make their own apps.

I had the opportunity to interview LiveCode about Empower Autism. Our conversation is below. If you want to go straight to the Indiegogo page, see their intro video, read all about the campaign, and see how to sign up, go here.

Tim: So this course is entirely online, correct? The students don’t have to physically go anywhere other than to their own computers?

LiveCode: Yes, it’s all online. The students can learn from the comfort of their own homes.

Tim: What technology and software tools does a student need to complete their projects? Is that all provided through LiveCode?

LiveCode: LiveCode provides all of the software. Students will need to provide their own laptop or computer.

Tim: How is the course presented? (online modules, videos, readings, etc.?) Is it self-paced? Are assignments basically checked by whether they work like the replica, or do the student and mentor work with anyone at LiveCode to ‘grade’ these benchmarks in the course?

LiveCode: Slides and videos are the main ways the course is presented. It can be self-paced. The goal for the students is to recreate the app each lesson whilst, of course, learning all the skills that go with it. Should the student have any difficulties replicating the app, they can submit their app via the online support forum and we would be on hand to assist them, providing explanations of the issue and how they can overcome them.

Tim: A lot of us middle-aged people have horror stories to tell about writing hundreds and thousands of lines of code in BASIC, Fortran, etc. in school to create rather uninteresting programs even though they took hours and hours to write. This is often what we think of when we think about programming. Tell me about why creating iOS apps is so much different, easier, and much more interesting and useful than that.

LiveCode: Creating iOS apps is exciting because a student gets to create the app they have on their phone or see in the stores. They can create something to work like an app they already use every day. It’s not only a cool way of learning a practical skill, but it allows students to test their new found knowledge by creating apps they like. One of the benefits of LiveCode is you only create one code base and you can deploy to multiple platforms, so it’s much more than just iOS.

We feel your pain about writing hundreds and thousands of lines of code. This is not the case with LiveCode. Using simple commands and English words you can code a fully featured app with very few lines of code.

Tim: Beyond the goal of creating replicas of the Calculator, Clock, Messages apps we already use many times a week on our phones and tablets, what other specific learning goals will the students achieve as part of this program?

LiveCode: The ability to code and create their own apps from scratch and work as a freelancer or for an app business developing apps for other businesses and companies. By engaging students with the apps they know and love they will actually learn all of the skills needed to build fully featured modern apps.

Tim: It’s $99 to reserve one slot for a student if the campaign is successful. Are there any additional costs during the 6 to 12-month program (optional or required) that should be considered by a parent or mentor?

LiveCode: No.

Tim: Can a friend or family member acquire a space and gift it to a student?

LiveCode: Yes. At another $99 perk called “Sponsor a Seat.”

Tim: Talk about the Family Pack for a minute. If I have one child on the spectrum and other children who aren’t, I can sign them all up for this course for that one Family Pack price?

LiveCode: The Family Pack includes one family member on the autism spectrum and their mentor, who can also be part of their family. However, we suggest that the mentor be someone who can help the adult on the autism spectrum and not act as another student. The mentor will be given full access to the course and forums so they can learn with their family member. Todd Fabacher has been teaching his son how to create apps and they have even started building their own app together, he has said “it was a great family activity”.

Tim: Also talk about the LiveCode community, too, and the chance to form online relationships with other students on the spectrum or with similar interests.

LiveCode: The LiveCode community is made up of people from all over the world. They’re very supportive and willing to help with any questions or comments a new community member may have. Students on the course will have access to the LiveCode community forums where they can find support as they continue building apps. LiveCode and the National Autistic Society will also offer ongoing support after the course has finished.

Tim: What kinds of support can the student and mentor expect from the online help desk?

LiveCode: Support will come in two forms.

Technical support – students and mentors can expect a dedicated forum where technical support will be on hand from the experienced LiveCode team. All the LiveCode tech support staff are receiving training in understanding autism and interacting with individuals on the autism spectrum, from one of our charity partners.

Non Technical Support – The National Autistic Society will set up an online help desk to offer advice and support for any non technical issues that may arise during the training course.

Tim: When the course is over, what kinds of apps could you see a student creating next?

LiveCode: Students who complete the training course have endless opportunities to create apps on many platforms. Students may bring their own ideas for apps or perhaps they may choose to become a freelance app developer and the type of apps they build will be defined by their clients.

Students will be given a full 1 year commercial license from LiveCode meaning they can develop fully featured apps for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows and more.

Training 3000 individuals with autism will have an impact on the app business and we are excited to see this and privileged to be a part of it.

I do web programming myself and have dabbled in learning how to do iOS apps. I’ve looked at numerous courses, and this is one of the most exciting courses I’ve seen. It’s an ambitious goal that will make a huge difference in a lot of lives. I commend them for this work.

To sign up for a slot in the class, go to their Indiegogo page. As a reminder, you must do it before the campaign expires in mid-May. If you have questions, you can use the Contact link on the campaign page.

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