What can grow from one email

With a confluence of favorable conditions, an email germinated into an experiment that could help autistic students find productive careers.

An Old Dominion University assistant engineering professor, Chung-Hao Chen, received a request from a tech company seeking high-functioning autistic students.

While difficulty reading social cues characterizes the disorder, some studies have shown that those students have an aptitude for the demanding, detail-oriented work of computer programming and product testing.

The professor, reported The Pilot's Elizabeth Simpson, connected with Dr. Maria Urbano, the director of a program for autistic students at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Together, they created a 12-week program that pairs autistic and non-autistic students to build robots.

The experiment holds potential for multiple successes: helping autistic students improve their social ability while simultaneously developing job skills; encouraging kids to consider careers in science and math; training future workers in a lucrative, growing job field; and increasing cooperation between two schools considering a joint public health program.

That's a lot of mileage from one 12-week experiment, a lot of possibility sprouting from an email.

We had, right here in Hampton Roads, a professor who recognized that potential working down the street from a doctor who could help realize it. That Chen received the email was, perhaps, serendipity. But when a good idea falls on fertile ground, as it did this time, it has a chance to grow.

Posted to: Editorials Opinion

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