Joe and Kim Benko have given up their lives to help their son with Asperger’s syndrome mature as a person and become more productive at work. They read this column in the Pekin (Ill.) Daily Times.
In January, the Benkos moved from Peoria, Illinois, to Plano, Texas, to live near and enroll their 25-year-old son Joshua in nonPareil Institute, a first-of-its-kind technical training center exclusively for post-high school students diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. (Asperger’s syndrome is a mild form of autism.)
At nonPareil Institute, Joshua has been learning digital art, 3D modeling, animation, coding, video game mapping, and video. In addition to nonPareil Institute, he has nearly finished an associates degree from a community college in Peoria.
Said mother Kim Benko, “Joshua often has a high level of anxiety and becomes fearful because of being unable to read other people’s expressions. For example, he had a job at Walmart (in Peoria) and a few times misinterpreted what customers were saying because he would take their words literally. When people tease him, he takes it as truth, and is unable to recognize nuances in speech. In college (in Peoria), he sometimes would get an F in classes because he was afraid of asking for information or asking the teacher for clarification.”
People with Asperger’s syndrome often feel isolated because of their poor social skills and in-depth, narrow interests. But neither of these characteristics hamper them from working with computers. In fact, their internal “wiring” may give them a special advantage. And that’s where nonPareil Institute steps in.
At the Institute, Joshua fits in because everyone has similar wiring. He has made friends and interacts with others during lab times and team brainstorming sessions to develop actual technology products. They learn how to create video games, and apps and eBooks for the iPhone, the iPad, the Android phone, and other platforms.
The Institute began in 2010 and has almost a hundred students. Joshua’s particular interest has been learning to draw 3-D mapping diagrams.
Kim said, “Joshua likes being able to make friends and communicate with others here. They are really supportive of him. Before coming here, he kind of felt out of place with others. He didn’t have anyone to do things with, like going to the mall or to different events.”
Besides computers, Joshua enjoys driving his car, Japanese art, reading and writing fantasy books, and astronomy.