Q: Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you to Tech Kids Unlimited.
Rosenberg: I started TechKidsUnlimited.org (TKU) in 2009 because, my son who learns differently, loved technology but there was no appropriate place for him to learn it which had the type of learning supports he needed to succeed. So, being a mom who has spent my career working in the field of education—I decided to start a program myself. We received not-for-profit status in 2014.
Q: Tell us about Tech Kids Unlimited: What is Tech Kids Unlimited? And who created it? What programs and services do you offer and whom do you serve?
Rosenberg: Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU) is a not-for-profit technology-based educational organization for kids who learn differently. TKU was founded to provide STEAM programs specifically for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other learning and emotional challenges. TKU's work-based learning programs empower and inspire the next generation of digital natives to learn, create, develop and share the tools of technology in a supportive and nurturing environment.
TKU's mission is to open up the field of technology to students with disabilities, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and to help them become the techies of tomorrow. With dismal employment options for individuals with ASD, TKU is working to open the doors to the field of technology so students can be independent.
TKU offers a wide variety of programs including: Weeklong workshops taking place over school holiday weeks and in the summer, Sunday Afternoon Tech Socials Weekend Programs, One-Day Programs, T3 (Tech Teen Team) Program for older students ages and a Parent Lecture Series.
Q: In a few words, can you please tell us in your opinion how technology in general can improve the learning process and experience of students with special needs. Can you also give us examples on how Tech Kids Unlimited utilizes technology in order to improve the learning process of students with special needs?
Rosenberg: All students love consuming technology—and this holds true for students with special needs. How do we make students who love consuming technology—become producers of digital culture? At TKU students are given project-based learning activities. For example, in order to develop, create and edit a video, the student needs to develop a storyboard. A storyboard contains an intro, middle and conclusion—just like writing an essay. By using technology tools in a fun way, students can practice other skills such as reading, writing and more.
Q: What challenges does Tech Kids Unlimited currently face?
Rosenberg: We are currently faced with the challenge of serving more students locally in our NY-NJ-CT area. We also get emails and calls all the time nationally from individuals who would like a TKU program in their area. We are actively fundraising all the time to pay the staff for our programs.
Q: In your opinion, what are the 3 main challenges students with special needs face in terms of pursuing their STEM Education?
1. Special needs students are often not thought of as smart; in fact, many of these students have average or above average IQs and are very smart! Because of this, many students are not targeted for and are left out of STEM educational programs in their schools.
2. Special needs students all have individual learning styles. These students need to be taught in a supportive and nurturing environment where their academic and emotional needs can be met.
3. Internships and Jobs in the tech sector: Students with special needs must be given the opportunities to obtain real-life working experience in internships and be given the chance to obtain jobs in the tech field—our communities need to be much-more open-minded to hiring individuals with differences.
Q: In your estimation, how can we improve the STEM participation of students with special needs?
Rosenberg: Foundations and corporations need to open up the discussion of “diversity” in STEM to include the idea of “neurodiversity.” This means that we must expand the definition of underserved to include students with differences. We are leaving out a whole sector of students who can and should be exposed and taught technology and computer science skills. The funding world and the job world must understand the value of individuals with special needs so that all people can have meaningful, productive and successful lives.