Social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication are areas in which a kid with autism faces challenges. Also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism is a very prevalent disorder among growing kids.

How 3D Printing Could Help Children with Autism Thrive!

Based on the concept of additively manufacturing a part or functional prototype, 3D printing technology is known to help children with this disorder. And here’s how.

3D Printing teaches children with autism the normality of failure

YouthQuest Foundation, a nonprofit organization, starting 3D printing at their place as an experiment. Years later, they have reported a tremendous improvement in young people who are on the autism spectrum.

Partnering with the PHILLIPS Programs for Children and Families in Northern Virginia, YouthQuest Foundation organizes cross-country collaborations. Henry, the student who graduated in June 2019 from PHILLIPS School in Annandale, was a part of this collaboration.

The child developed skills that helped him become independent and successful. 3D printing was used to teach vocational skills to many students, such as Henry. They are taught lifelong lessons about solving specific problems, learning from previous mistakes, and persevering to achieve their goals.

Learning through Experience

Creating 3D objects on a 3D printer is a trial and error exercise known to change students’ perception of failure. They start to see it as a part of the process wherein the eventual result is always a success. The most important lesson that 3D printing teaches them about life is that: Failure is not final. Pick3DPrinter has a list of the best 3d printers for beginners. These are ranked factors such as price, how child-friendly, and easy to use.

3D Printing can build the path to employment for children with autism

Tom Meeks, the Director of Instruction at YouthQuest, discovered the Fort Vancouver Virtual Reality Project and connected it with the opportunity for PHILLIPS students and kids at iTech Preparatory, a school in Vancouver, Washington focusing on STEM. The role of award-winning teacher John Zingale was noteworthy in the complete process. Seventh and eighth-grade students under his mentorship scanned a 19th-century artifact from the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to create an interactive virtual museum. They lacked a way to create a realistic replica of the scanned artifacts. The way should be productive enough to handle and study artifacts without the fear of damaging the originals.

Tom immediately offered to have their students use the full-color powder/binder jetting 3D printer for the task. The work was supposed to be carried out in YouthQuest’s lab for making reproductions. This was an extraordinary way of demonstrating the concept. It gave high school graduates, who were on the autism spectrum, a path to employment. As simple it sounds, it can be complicated. Studies have found upwards of 90% of autistic individuals are unemployed. Teaching autistic students about 3D printing technology provides new employment opportunities in a growing field. Also, to note how 3D printing technology’s scope is limited and has immense potential to increase in the future.

How Henry became an example for other children with autism

After John agreed to this collaboration, Henry was looked upon by his mentors due to his enrollment status. He had been at PHILLIPS since its first class in 2016. Henry attended a week of advanced training in their lab. There, he gained hands-on experience with powder bed fusion technology and printers based on the same. These were printers that operated differently than the ones that used filament for making single-color objects. Two years after this, Henry continued developing his 3D printing club skills on the Annandale campus.

Two other students who joined Henry’s team were John and Ladrious. They mastered every part of this 3D printing process within the next three days. They learned how to take the 3D image files, prepared files for 3D printing software, set the printer up, and operate it. Additionally, they learned how to post-process these 3D printed objects; package them for shipping to Vancouver.

On the other hand, John and his students were more than delighted to have the results they always wanted. And hence they continued their partnership with the start of every New Year in school.

3D Printing can help children with autism bank on their core strengths

The core strength list of children with autism includes attention to detail, focusing intensely, visual learning, tenacity, and out-of-the-box thinking. These students that do not perform well in classes otherwise tend to excel when taught 3D printing. Henry expressed to Lindsay that he wanted to dive so much into 3D printing that people could call him a tech guru.

On his path, Henry’s progress had not always been straight-lined. When he submitted his first project, his 3D design file missed an essential component. And when conveyed about this missing person, he was so nervous and embarrassed that he went out of the class. It took time for Henry to learn how failure is an essential part of life. With growing skills in learning 3D printing technology, Henry was able to grow some self-confidence. But this growing and learning would have never been possible if Henry weren’t able to bank on his core strength, focusing on a single process for a long time.

The Conclusion

There have been other experiments carried out throughout the world wherein the attempt was to connect 3D printing and autism. The results were also much more on the positive side. The good part about this is that more than the commercial benefit that 3D printing technology always manages to bring on board also brings so much betterment to the world in real ways.

And this is just a start. The real benefit of it would be noticed five or ten years down the line when the technology is predicted to behave like today’s mainstream manufacturing technologies.

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