MONTCLAIR — Ten New Jersey students with autism are the recipients of scholarships designed to further their skills and education in the fundamentals of computer coding and web and game design.

The NXT GEN Coders Program is made possible through a grant from Autism Speaks and GameStop. The students are connected to it through Montclair-based Yukōdit, which since 2016 has endeavored to give New Jerseyans more exposure to the ever-evolving world of computer science.

Hailey Horn, Yukōdit program director, said she and other staffers noticed that students with autism were not only enrolling but excelling based on their intense focus, attention to detail, and strong interest in technology.

In the NXT GEN program, participants will get a chance to develop computer literacy skills with the goals of growing their resumes and finding jobs in the industry, or even striking out on their own as entrepreneurs.

Horn said those goals would not be achievable without the additional involvement of the Alpine Learning Group, a national leader in autism treatment based in Paramus.

"What we've learned is that our students in the Alpine Learning Group program are taking the skills that they learn in class and using them in the real world," she said.

One hurdle, according to Horn, is working around the social interaction difficulties often associated with autism because group projects are key to Yukōdit's education model. But their team is tackling that head-on.

"After talking to parents, we've developed and implemented social skill exercises where students give and receive feedback on their projects, which teaches them how to work in a team environment," Horn said.

Horn said that when students take initiative and come to their instructors, expressing what they want or need to learn before it can be taught, is when the NXT GEN program really comes alive.

Yukōdit hopes to soon publish its lesson plans online, so other educators outside their organization can spread that knowledge to even more kids and young adults.

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Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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