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Dennis and Microsoft teach children with autism to code

On Wednesday 6 July, Dennis Publishing and Microsoft ran a workshop at the Dennis London offices to teach 22 autistic children how to code.

The ground-breaking initiative was set up thanks to Dennis’ charity of the year CASPA, who are dedicated to helping children, young people and families affected by autism, and Microsoft’s Autism and Inclusive Hiring Programme and apprenticeship scheme.

Dennis employee Michael Barton, who has high-functioning autism himself, attended his local CASPA centre when he was younger and has since gone on to become an ambassador for the charity, having been through its programme and left with a university degree in physics. He now works full-time at Dennis, and wrote a piece for called ‘Autism – Straight from the horse’s mouth’.

Working with Dennis’ Digital Advertising Director Paul Lazarra, Michael approached Microsoft about hosting this special event for CASPA. The workshop was a fantastic collaboration between Dennis Publishing, CASPA and the team at Microsoft UK specialising in these special engagement programmes, says Dennis.

The day was split into two different workshops. The first part taught the children how to code on BBC micro:bit computers. The second session was a VR experience using VISR cardboard headsets with Windows 10 phones, allowing the children to explore a virtual-reality garden and to create new objects to go within it. Finally the children had the chance to use the new HTC Vive technology, which fully immersed them into a state-of-the-art virtual world.

Helen Dyer from CASPA said: “We are extremely proud to have worked with both Microsoft and Dennis on this event. Helping our young people from CASPA to thrive in the workplace is one of our main aims. Introducing them to world of coding, where they can actually build something and see it work, is a fantastic way for them to see how their specialist skills and interest in IT and computers can be translated into something that could enable them to access the world of work in the near future.”

Paul Lazarra, Digital Advertising Director at Dennis, said: “CASPA is our chosen charity at Dennis for 2016. I’m delighted that we’ve been able to bring together Microsoft and CASPA, and to host this special event for them. This will enable the young people to trial VR and coding with fantastic equipment, and really immerse themselves in the technology and virtual worlds.”

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer from Microsoft said: “Our Autism and Inclusive Hiring Programme in the US has been a massive success and has shown us that attracting a diverse group of employees not only makes Microsoft a more inclusive and exciting place to work, but also helps us create even better products that benefit our customers all over the world. Working with Dennis and CASPA on this event helped us to showcase the potential of such workplace diversity in the UK and gave us a wonderful opportunity to help young people affected by autism to connect a love and understanding of technology with the business and communication skills that will enable them to thrive in the world of work.