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Teen Wins Award For A Coding Program

Teen Wins Award For A Coding Program

In 2020, Sreenidi Bala, a teenager from Farmington, Connecticut, started a passion project that would change the lives of hundreds of autistic students.

Four years later, Bala was named the Prudential Emerging Visionaries Employees’ Choice Award winner for her Code for All Minds initiative. The award came with $10,000 she can use to expand her efforts across Connecticut and throughout the country, and possibly provide technology supplies for students that need it.

Bala saw the potential and talent of neurodivergent students and, as reported by Disability Scoop, created a computer science program called Code for All Minds. The program for neurodivergent students provides educators and families with a curriculum to make STEM career paths possible for young people with learning disabilities, as the press release put out by Prudential described.

The program contains aspects of typical coding software lesson plans, like algorithms, functions, and conditionals. But what makes her project different is the approach Bala took to make the content easily understandable for neurodivergent teens, such as extra video animations specifically suited for autistic learners and a comprehensive guidance page. The special needs students at her Farmington, Conn., high school gave her feedback that helped her create the program, as did input from paraeducators and parents, noted a Connecticut Insider article.

Bala’s passion and inspiration came from her best friend, who is autistic, as well as the inequities she saw in classrooms for children with special needs, the press release reported. She said, “They don’t have the same level of opportunities, and there’s only certain places in society that accommodate them and give them a seat at the table.” The realization that “despite students’ talents and verbal abilities, all of them were being prepared for careers in labor-intensive industries” started her on her journey to create STEM resources for autistic students, she said in the press release. Since Code For All Minds launched, many students with special needs in Bala’s school district have been inspired to pursue technical post-graduate programs.

Not only has Code for All Minds had a tremendous positive impact on the neurodivergent community, but it has also helped Bala herself grow as an ally. “I think that sense of gratefulness and empathy for the student who’s sitting next to you, who may not look just like you, who may not think the same way as you is the most important thing because at the end of the day, we’re all human, and we all deserve the same kindness, respect, belief, and unwavering support,” Bala told Disability Scoop.

Ben VanHook is an AuDHD (autistic and ADHD) master’s student at George Mason University studying public policy and is currently employed at OAR as the community support coordinator.

The post Teen Wins Award For A Coding Program first appeared on Organization for Autism Research.

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