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Boy with Autism Builds First Robot, Wins International Competition

This guest blog post is by Trista Dominguez, who has a son on the autism spectrum.

My son, Angelo, is an amazing eleven-year-old young man who was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. He has struggled with many of the challenges that accompany that diagnosis.  Although he has made enormous improvement, he still battles challenges every day, as do many on the spectrum. Angelo is basically non-verbal to this day. He repeats his favorite theme songs, and shocks us once in a while with a sentence from out of the blue, but cannot truly communicate.

During his IEP, I expressed how passionate Angelo is about computers.  Amazingly, his wonderful team suggested he join the science club. The club is focused on building robots, using a computer program to do so. Mostly we had him join to get him involved in an activity with his general ed. peers, since he would be the only child with autism participating.

No one ever expected what would a happen a few months later. The ultimate goal of the club was to attend the international robotics competition in Albuquerque, NM, known as Robo Rave.  Angelo's robot was small compared to others brought from around the world, but it had heart and a great idea behind it. Angelo shocked everyone when, with some help and guidance from some wonderful people, he programed his robot to use a light sensor to read cards that showed emotion such as crying, and sing his favorite theme songs!

He was engaged and focused like we have never seen before! Everyone at the completion thought it was nice that he could participate. He was up against some amazing competition, like flight simulators, etc. Every time someone approached his booth, Angelo sprang to action and demonstrated his robot. He was a different kid from the introverted young man we are all used to.

At the awards ceremony no one expected him to even place, but he won first place and the $800 prize! Everyone voted because they thought his design could actually be used in the class room to engage children with autism, demonstrating cause and effect. You could see the joy radiating off of him.  If he had access to his robot that minute, I'm sure he would have programed it to say, "I'm so happy!"  From what I'm told, he is the first child to participate in the competition with autism, and most definitely the first child with autism to win in the competition.  His victory truly shines a light on what children on the spectrum can do when given a chance.  One of best parts of the day was when he handed out information about autism to the people who visited his booth, people who came from around the world to see this competition. We hope we shined a little more light on awareness, and on the importance of including children on the spectrum.  They can do incredible things when given the opportunity!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.