Advancing Equity: Supporting and Empowering Students with Autism

(NordVirk

As an inclusive society, we must ensure an equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for everyone, including people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Thirty years ago, it was rare for a student with ASD to enter college, according to a research paper by Scott L. J. Jackson and published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. However, over the past decades, there has been much improvement in the detection and awareness of ASD in children. Now, with the provision of effective treatment and support, those with average or above average intellectual abilities are enrolling at universities.

Another research paper published by Emine Gurbuz states that students with autism self-reported significant challenges and more mental health difficulties than students with no autism. According to the researchers, significant challenges focused on the social components of university life, including social skills, social support opportunities, and levels of ASD awareness from others. Many strengths were also reported regarding academic skills of university students with autism. Importantly, there were more thoughts of withdrawal by the students with autism highlighting the need for support.

And the question arises, how can students with autism be more supported by educational institutions?

NordVirk is a Danish non-profit IT company with a social purpose that aims at empowering students with autism. NordVirk is headquartered in Aalborg, an ancient city in Denmark where over a thousand years ago, Viking ships sailed past on the Limfjord and where there is the largest ancient Viking burial ground in Scandinavia.

The Danish company is run like a professional Information Technology (IT) company with a goal of educating, training, empowering, and employing more people with autism. NordVirk provides educational as well as employment training courses for people who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

After a three-year education program, these young people with autism move on to become IT-supporters, get employed at IT departments or at NordVirk. Malthe, a graduate from the NordVirk’s program, was hired as an IT technician and he is a member of the NordVirk’s staff.

He is an example of how with an education, training, and employment to give them independence and financial security they become full contributors to the society.

Fierce Education spoke with Stepan Lee, CEO at Nordvirk, to learn more about how focusing on equity in education can change the future of so many students with autism in the world.

NordVirk acquires laptops and desktops from public partners, enterprises, large organizations, and educational institutions. They take care of certified data wipe, refurbishment, and upgrades of the equipment. 

Lee explains that NordVirk offers refurbishing services which are typically offered to colleges, universities, and enterprises. “We buy used computers from them -- laptops and desktop computers -- and some colleges and universities also purchase refurbished computers from NordVirk,” he said.

 

 Source: NordVirk

“We have staff working as team leader/mentor for each of our teams, and yes, students under education and in employment training are doing the [refurbishing] work, very hands-on!”, Lee explains. “The team leader is responsible for our quality assurance, data security, and management [relating also to the ISO standards].”

NordVirk operates according to ISO 9001 (quality management), ISO 14001 (environmental management), ISO 27001 (information security management), and ISO 45001 (occupational health and safety management standards.

“But the students are working more and more independently,” he continues. “Some need guidance, especially at the beginning of their three-year education, but as time passes, they are part of the team and work very independently. There are also a couple of students with driver licenses who are chauffeurs of our truck and they pick up equipment from our corporate partners.”

Lee emphasizes how empowerment is a key word for success. “Empowerment is important!,” he said. “They really develop and grow, and are team members and part of the NordVirk family. Many come back after graduation to just say ‘hello’.”

NordVirk was founded in 2013. Since then, it has grown into a non-profit which is an alternative to students with autism who want to continue their education within the IT industry or another workplace.

From NordVirk’s three-year individually designed educational program:

  • 30 percent of the graduates go straight into employment
  • 40 percent continue with college education, typically Tech College as IT Supporter
  • 30 percent  will go into social programs and public support (they will not become ready for employment)

At the end of the conversation, Stepan summarized the company’s wishes, and extended an open invitation to global colleges and universities to learn more about how NordVirk is advancing equity in Denmark.

“NordVirk wishes to be an inspiration to colleges and universities internationally on how the integration of students with autism and Asperger syndrome can make a difference to so many lives. They can get through an education with the right support and/or a mentor. We also open our doors to foreign visitors to come here to learn more, see how we operate, and get inspired.”

If you want to learn more, or have questions about how putting Equity First your institution can become a center of change, register to the REMOTE Summit on June 9 and 10, 2021 where there will be a special track devoted to the discussion of Equity in higher education.