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Video game coding skills lands South Australian year 12 student with autism a job

Jesse Cross has a knack for coding, but it’s not just a past-time or a hobby, it’s a profession.

Jesse, 17, is a year 12 student in the regional South Australian town of Berri. He has a dog named Sookie, and his favorite Pokemon is Charizard.

He and his two brothers have autism, and together they have a passion for gaming.

“I tend to lean more into creative games nowadays, like building games.”

Jesse says his family gave him confidence to believe in his skills (LR: Peter, Jesse, Sookie, Zach, Alexander, Tegan).(ABC News: Sophie Landau)

Cracking the code

Jesse’s mum Tegan said it was a struggle to find a disability service provider in her regional area that would help the boys grow and achieve their goals.

She came across Minds at Play, which provided tailored online gaming sessions for people with disabilities to play together, fostering communication and social interaction skills.

Jesse’s eldest brother Zach plays Dungeons and Dragons, while youngest Alexander plays Minecraft.

But neither of the games satisfied Jesse’s creative knack for coding.

He asked Minds at Play if they offered a coding session, but first Jesse had to teach them how it worked.

Jesse was eventually asked if he could teach the class, which his mum said was a “mind-blowing” moment.

He was asked to run three sessions over the school holidays, with his first class selling out in less than two minutes.

Four people on an online conference call, they are all smiling
Jesse met online with Minds at Play staff members to prepare for his coding sessions.(Supplied: National Disability Insurance Agency)

From student to teacher

Berri Regional Secondary College principal Emily Griggs helped Jesse come up with a lesson plan in preparation for his classes.

Jesse said he was excited to start his first paying job and to utilize his expertise, but said it was “nerve-racking.”

“It was coming up the next day and I almost thought ‘I can’t do this’ — I had a lot of worries,” he said.

But with the support of his family, Jesse built up the courage to follow through and teach Minds at Play’s very first coding sessions.

Jesse said the feedback from his classes made him feel amazing.

“That made my heart melt in happiness.”

a man with a computer, and a man is on the computer.
Demand for Jesse’s coding sessions is high as students join a wait list.(Supplied: National Disability Insurance Agency)

‘We’re all trying to find a purpose’

Jesse’s mum said there was a future for her son to continue teaching code, with a waiting list already building for more classes.

“We’re talking to Minds at Play about opening up a 10-week program, and Jesse’s working out what he wants to do,” she said.

“Being autistic he’s also learning how he fits into the world.”

Jesse is gearing up for term 3 of the school year to complete his South Australian Certificate of Education, but he has plenty of opportunities at his doorstep.

He’s created more than 100 different projects and could start a business venture selling his code.

“I could possibly package them and turn them into an executable, which means if you click on a program it just starts up,” he said.

“There is a possibility I could go bigger if I wanted to.

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