July 9th, 2013
12:01 PM ET

Turning people on the Autism spectrum into tech innovators

Editors Note: Dan Selec is the founder and CEO of the nonPareil Institute – a hybrid school and software company in Plano, Texas that teaches adults on the autism spectrum to write and develop apps, video games and iBooks. Watch his full profile this Saturday at 2:30p ET on “The Next List”.

By Kristyn Martin, CNN

Dan Selec has a revolutionary idea: teach adults on the autism spectrum how to code so they can create apps and video games and make a living in the tech industry.

“If you want to know what terror is, find out that your child has a disability,” said Selec.  “As a parent we’re all asking the same question: what happens after we’re gone?”

Selec, who has a son on the autism spectrum, wanted to find the answer to that question. “I wanted Caleb to have a chance to live a fulfilled life, not just a life,” said Selec. “He loves technology … it turns out there’s a whole population of this group where, this is their core strength. They’re digital natives.”

Selec, along with his partner Gary Moore, founded the nonPareil Institute in Plano, Texas. NonPareil is a hybrid school-meets-startup tech company. There, he teaches around 120 adults on the spectrum everything they need to know to create apps, video games and iBooks.

“For me, and I think a lot of students, we never expected to make video games,” said Jeremy Gage Farris, a student at nonPareil. “They might be lucky enough to just get a janitor’s job like I had for a few years. And just going from that to this is just a miracle for a large group of people like us.”

While the exact unemployment rate for adults on the autism spectrum is unknown, studies point to it being very low, according to The University of Missouri.

“It’s very limited in the number of job opportunities they have, the pay is very poor if they get paid at all,” said Jim Connell with the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. “The nonPareil model is very viable for a specific portion of the population.”

Selec wrote and designed software specific to the needs to adults on the autism spectrum to streamline their learning process. It teaches them everything they need to be competitive in the software industry.  “When you have gone through all the training and all of the courses you begin to get assignments and campaigns," said Selec. "And campaigns are product that is going to market.”

The nonPareil Institute already has several video games and apps available for purchase on iTunes and on most mobile platform stores. “That’s our vision, to be an innovation factory for approaching the market place and giving our crew sustainable revenue for the future,” said Selec.

Moore says the school's long-term goal for people on the Autism spectrum is more ambitious.

“We want to provide a campus community where they can train, they can work and they can also live,” said Moore. “Just like anybody else, they’re looking for purpose in life… and unfortunately there just are not many places that will give them that opportunity.”

“We want to answer this for every family across the U.S. and maybe even the world,” says Selec.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Sara S.

    I found this article very informative! It seems that a lot of kids with autism love technology, and it is great to include them into the real world. Just because they have difficulties, doesn't mean we shouldn't discount them.

    October 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Reply
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    July 17, 2013 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  3. Donindallas

    I had alerted family and friends to tune into the Next List today. We were all sadly disappointed that the Zimmerman trial is still dominating ALL the news channels and had pre-empted the showing. Without going into that further, I hope CNN has the ability to post the feature stories from today's Next List and have them on the web somewhere for viewing.

    July 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  4. Laurie Farris

    I can't say enough about this company! Our son has gone from just going because I bribed him to now being on part time staff, teaching new crew members, running team meetings and working on projects! He has purpose and excitement about his future and this causes this mom to have a sense of peace and joy that only comes from seeing your child bloom in his gifting! Thank you Dan and Gary for listening to that still, small voice in your hearts and starting nonPareil! Many, many people are going to be encouraged, helped and have their lives changed because you risked everything and took this AUDACIOUS step of faith! I can't wait to see what happens NEXT!!!

    July 10, 2013 at 9:59 am | Reply

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