We think all children should have the opportunity to learn to code, no matter who they are or where they come from. We chatted to Gravesend Library in Kent, where staff members started a Code Club in 2015. They incorporated the Code Club into their Kent Digital Dens project in 2017, and in 2018 they set up their first autism-friendly club session.
With 1 in 100 people in the UK on the autistic spectrum, Nicola Tubbs from Kent Libraries, Registration & Archives decided to explore how to make Gravesend Library a more autism-friendly space. As part of this, she set up an autism-friendly Code Club, which provides specific support for young people on the autistic spectrum so they can learn and develop through coding.
Getting started with an autism-friendly Code Club
In summer 2018, Nicola met Tim Cook at a community event. Tim is an autism professional and a member of the National Autistic Society’s Dartford and Gravesham branch. Between the two of them, they had a wealth of experience to draw upon while creating a safe space where children on the autistic spectrum are able to explore their interest in digital technology.
Nicola and Tim knew that noisy and crowded environments are difficult to cope with for young people with autism, so they found space away from the hubbub of the main library that would be suitable for the club. Then they promoted this new learning opportunity through the National Autistic Society Facebook page and the library’s own networks. And finally in October, Gravesend Library held its very first autism-friendly Code Club session!
The first club sessions were a great success, and the Code Club now runs every other month. The club is small but growing, with six children aged between 9 and 14 attending the sessions; parents are invited to stay as well. Nicola, Tim, and Digital Dens volunteers engage the children in a variety of activities, including Scratch projects and physical digital making opportunities.
Next up: other autism-friendly digital activities
Based on the success of this club, Nicola, Tim and the Digital Dens team are developing ideas for running other autism-friendly digital activities, including a CoderDojo. Tim says: “We’re really excited by the opportunities this could offer! We would love for other libraries to learn from what we’ve done, and to see whether it could be replicated elsewhere.”