Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The NonPareil Institute - Helping People with Autism Succeed at Work and Life

One of the hardest things about parenting is wondering where your child's place is in the world. Will your child be able to find meaningful work and contribute to society? For those who are parents of a child with special needs, that question becomes all the more acute. My son is pretty high functioning on the autism spectrum, and for that I am thankful. Maybe 90% of the time he can pass for neuro-typical, a.k.a. "normal," until he can't, at which point it all goes downhill very quickly. That 10% of the time definitely presents an issue. In addition, he has very real learning challenges. And so I wonder, what will he do with his life? His plans at the moment involve living in our basement on a permanent basis (Aspies are not big fans of change), and I'm OK with that, but I keep telling him he needs to have a job while he's living there. But, what can he do?  That's the question that remains to be answered. For that reason, I hope the NonPareil Institute, and places like it, succeed and expand.


Dan Selec had been thinking about his son's future for a long time. Having a child on the autism spectrum, he asked the same question so many parents ask; "What happens when my son grows up? What is out there that can help him today, in a practical and predictable way?" Dan recognized the interest, ability and passion many like his son seemed to display, especially in regard to PC’s and game consoles. If this passion could be harnessed in the form of technical ability, an entirely new method of communication, expression and productivity would be possible.
The culmination of Dan's thoughts resulted in the foundational nonPareil whitepaper, Technical Training for the Autistic Mind written in July 2008.

Shortly after, Dan met Gary Moore, a parent asking the same questions. Gary is also the parent of a child on the spectrum, and understood the challenges ahead, and also recognized his son’s similar interest in computers and video games. It was at this first meeting that Gary committed to helping Dan take his vision and make it a reality, and in September 2008, they founded Nonpareil Institute.

Dan began training the first student in his kitchen in July 2009, then added a second and third quickly thereafter, due in no small part to the efforts of J’Lynn Anderson who conducted the early student recruiting efforts. The nightly training in Dan’s kitchen quickly grew to 8 students and five nights a week, for over a year. As his wife says today, “It was just our new norm…”

Gary’s efforts during this time were largely directed at building a network of supporters, partners and donors to help fund the young, fledgling company, as well as finding a location for nonPareils’ first training center. Through a mutual friend, an introduction was made to the Executive Director of the Guildhall at SMU-in-Plano, which led to a meeting with the Campus Director to consider space for nonPareil.

The culmination of the efforts of this team resulted in the opening of the first full-time nonPareil operation on the campus of SMU-in-Plano in September 2010. This site, which opened with 8 students, quickly grew to 52 students in the first 8 months. One year later more space was acquired, and the program grew to over 80 students. The program now has over 130 active Crewmembers.

Today, 5 of our students are full-time employees of the company, with 25 other students being part-time staff.
As of October 2013, we have 5 apps in the iTunes store, and 4 in the Android store, as well as many free to play maps and campaigns for various popular games. Students have moved from around the country to enroll in this leading edge, ground-breaking, practical solution for adults with autism spectrum disorder which includes technical training, work, and eventually, a residential campus.

No comments:

Amazon Ad