Microsoft partners with Milton Keynes computing museum to offer vital chance to young people with autism

Young people with autism and a talent for computers are being given a change to learn coding and develop their own video games in MK.

By Sally Murrer
Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 12:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 12:40 pm

The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) at Bletchley Park is holding a special series of workshops.

The sessions are aimed at young autistic people who are interested in learning about coding and videogame development.

According to recent research, economic recovery is at threat from a looming digital skills crisis caused by a sharp fall in the number of young people taking IT courses.

The museum is based at historic Bletchley Park

Around one in 100 people in the UK are diagnosed as autistic and recent research from The Office for National Statistics showing only 22 per cent of them are in paid employment. Yet many people with autism have a special talent for IT and computing.

The new partnership includes Microsoft s Cloud Advocacy team and members of a charity called Track, which helps autistic people to access employment. Called 'Making Games with Autistic Students', it is part of TNMOC’s Autism in the Workplace programme.

This programme's aim is to help autistic candidates develop employability skills through placements and interactive science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) projects at the museum.

The new workshops encourage young people to engage with the museum, in spite of lockdown restrictions. Students are offered individualised coaching to support them through the process.

A Microsoft spokesman said: "Working with Thomas Cliffe of Track and Jacqui Garrad, the Museum Director, we devised a plan to help keep students engaged with the museum even while it is closed due to COVID: a series of workshops and coaching on how to develop games."

Workshops were created to help students build and demo their games, he said,

"We began with the idea that we could reuse the base engine that powers our 'Mystery' series of games. Students could create a winding 'choose-your-own-adventure' type story by adding links and markdown files. We began with a workshop on how to build such a game, and realized that different types of games were also of interest, as the local setup for individualized code development proved challenging for attendees."

A second two-part workshop was then built using Microsoft MakeCode.

"We were excited to see the students demo their work in an online demo day," said the spoeksman. "We were happy to see that one student built a totally customized maze game. Another built an amusing pirate game using the VuePress game engine. "

TNMOC's Jacqui Garrad said: "This afternoon was simply a fantastic and inspiring opportunity to see how the smallest things that we all do together and collaborate bring people out of their shells and make a huge difference."

TNMOC is home to many historic computers; perhaps its most famous one is its reconstructed 'Bombe', the computer that Alan Turing used at the Park to crack the Enigma code and shorten WWII.