Power of NeuroGaming Center

In September 2019, we were awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Future of Work program that builds on our pilot work in our 2018 internship program.

FW-HTF-RL: Neurodiversity in tech: using interactive decision theory and augmented reality to enable employment for adults with ASD.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) affect 1 out of 59 individuals, cost $137 billion per year in the U.S., and result in a staggering unemployment rate for adults that have the cognitive skill to contribute substantially to the technology workforce. The goal of this project is to develop training technology as well as a skill-building internship model to expand access to jobs in the technology sector for adults on the Autism Spectrum. Specifically, we intend to:

  • Build upon and refine our successful internship program with tools that support workplace-appropriate communication and other behavioral skills;
  • Develop an augmented reality (AR) coaching system in which a virtual coach conveys the guidance of a human coach when interacting with individuals with ASD;
  • Create a video game that helps participants learn which workplace communication tools are appropriate to use in different scenarios;
  • Develop an email tool that improves written communications to and from individuals with ASD to avoid misunderstandings common to ASD-style communication,
  • Adapt roleplaying scenarios appropriate for the workforce; and
  • Study economic and ethical questions that arise from these technologies.

These technology developments, in conjunction with the internship program, aim to prepare neurodiverse individuals for technical careers, such as software testing and development.

We are now funded by the NSF Future of Work program! Stay tuned for Summer 2020 internship developments.

In 2019 we were challenged to create a recurring program without recurring funding. The PoNG Center managed to provide the same quality coach-based mentoring on a smaller scale for this year's internship. This summer, 4 bright neurodiverse young adults received personal, professional, and tech development skills from a diligent coach as well as two intern alumni. Pairing graduated interns with current interns gave each a chance to learn from the other. The former interns developed mentoring and leadership skills, and the new interns established a peer network that we hope is ever-expanding. This year's program was small but mighty. We look forward to scaling our program for this underserved but deserving population in future years.

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Supported by the San Diego Foundation and the Legler Benbough Foundation, we have built a summer workforce training program for 25 neurodiverse interns. These interns, who have graduated from high school with or without college experience, spent 8 weeks at RADLab and the PoNG Center working in teams to design and develop a research-based video game that includes some type of sensor. Throughout the summer, interns practiced both technical and interpersonal skills with the help of coaches. The technical skills included extracting and summarizing information from the scientific literature, designing and coding the game in Unity, writing the game narrative, developing digital art and sound assets, and project management. Each intern was also paired with a coach/mentor who helped the intern develop the soft skills needed to thrive in a mainstream work environment.

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