Diversity & Inclusion
Health / Wellness

Tech Kids Unlimited teaches autistic Brooklyn teens the skills of the digital world

Beth Rosenberg started the program eight years ago with her son. Now based at NYU Tandon, it serves more than 350 New York students.

A student learns at Tech Kids Unlimited. (Courtesy photo)

Beth Rosenberg created Tech Kids Unlimited in 2009, to help her son, Jack, who is on the autism spectrum

“When you’re a teen and you have autism there’s very little to do after school during the day. You don’t play sports or go to Starbucks or Terminal 5. You go to your room and play video games,” Rosenberg explained by phone recently. “We want to engage these teens, we want to help them think about their own futures. Gone are the days of residential programs. How are we going to integrate young people with autism into society?”

Tech Kids Unlimited contains two programs, one for kids aged 7–13 kids and one for teens from 14–20, called the T3 Digital Agency. The agency trains students in the skills of the digital workforce: graphic design, video editing, game development and more. Each student has an individualized education plan that fits to best fit their aptitudes and preferences. Classes are taught on weekends, after school and as summer camps.

The teen agency produces real work, for which the students get paid. Its biggest success so far has been winning a competition put on by AT&T called the Connect Ability Challenge. The winning mobile app, LOLA, provides “social and emotional solutions” for people on the autism spectrum.

“Basically it’s a funny tool that helps you keep track of your daily living skills like reminding you to take your medication in the morning and to wipe your face with a napkin after you eat pizza,” Rosenberg said.

Students in the program did all the design and the GIFs and Rosenberg had a developer write the code.

Rosenberg has worked in education, technology and art for much of her career, at the Guggenheim Museum, Eyebeam and now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Rosenberg started the program in 2009 for her son, Jack, and some of his friends. Back then, it was held at JCC Manhattan, on the Upper West Side. Through what Rosenberg calls the “mommy network” parents began to ask if their kids could join, and the program grew. In 2013, NYU Tandon invited her to bring the program into its orbit, and since then the organization has raised funds and the two distinct programs have evolved. Tech Kids Unlimited now serves more than 350 kids in New York, including those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Rosenberg said she started the program with $30,000 from two funders and has now raised more than half a million dollars.

The goal of Tech Kids Unlimited is to help students develop real skills they can use in the job market.

“Some [of the students will] go to college, but no one wants to hire them,” she said. “They’re weird and quirky and not self-starters. We want them to contribute to society in a wonderful and meaningful way doing what they love to do, rather than bagging your groceries at Target.”

With technology, she saw a spark of interest her son didn’t express in many other areas of life, something she’s seen over and over again with students since.

“There’s something about technology that our kids really love,” she said. “Putting a student in front of Unity and watching him work when he can barely have a conversation with anyone is unbelievable.”

Series: Brooklyn

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