How 14-year-old Amelia is taking on the world of robotics – and baseball
She’s a national robotics champion and state baseball player, but 14-year-old Amelia Downes doesn’t take any of her successes for granted – including the progress she’s made in learning how to forge friendships and connect with others.
As she prepares to travel to Dallas, Texas, next week for the VEX Robotics World Championship, Amelia’s mother Linda is in awe of her daughter’s technical and academic talents as much as she is proud of her newfound communication abilities.
While in the past Amelia has been challenged by any change to her routine, repetitive behaviours, and understanding how to interpret social situations, it’s now a completely different story.
Amelia is now engaging with those around her and looking forward to spending time with her classmates, team mates and close friends.
Building a supportive environment
Amelia has struggled socially in the past, experiencing anxiety and a tendency to avoid connecting with others.
She started receiving supports with the NDIS in 2017, which have included working with a speech therapist, occupational therapist and developmental educator.
Between the ages of four to 12, Amelia received regular in-home support to work with her on cooking and progressing her social skills so she could develop her ability to interpret social cues and learn how to react.
Amelia continues to learn how to react appropriately in social settings, but has developed the skills to take part in group activities and team sports.
“She has gained a lot more confidence,” Linda says. “She still has days where she doesn’t want to do anything but she will now walk to the shops with her friends and she doesn’t need to wear her ear plugs as much. It’s helped her a lot.
“And it’s been good for her independence – even being able to ask someone for help because before she wouldn’t ask for help or talk to anyone.”
Linda says Amelia is happier now to be with people and she doesn’t want to always be on her own.
“I get to socialise more and hang out more,” Amelia says.
As a Year 9 student at Adelaide’s Salisbury East High School, Amelia has recently been part of a dynamic team of students called Alpha Entity.
Alpha Entity recently competed and placed fifth at the VEX Challenge in Sydney, a robotics championship. This result gave the students a wild card entry to the VEX challenge in Dallas held from April 30-May 2.
Linda says that without the supports Amelia has received over the past six years, there would be many more barriers preventing her from chasing and realising her dreams.
Accompanying Amelia on her 10-day adventure to the US will be Linda, her father, Andrew, and her 13-year-old sister Johanna – all keen to celebrate her successes and acknowledge the courageous and exceptional achievements she has made over the past few years.
The entourage will also include Amelia’s two team members and two teachers.
The competition in Texas will require her team to build and drive a robot, and teachers will be provided with a list of requirements for each team to abide by when working on their masterpieces. Limits will also be set – for example, a limit could include that the team is only to use six motors throughout the competition.
While the nationals and other competitions are usually held within a day, the world event will be run across three days.
Amelia says that one of her favourite things about being an international robotics champion is being able to travel. “There will be a lot of hard work … and a lot of weird conversations.”
She says the trio will “work as a team” to do their best.
“We all set up and do our own tasks and collaborate with each other, and then we put it all together.”
Linda says she’s excited for the event and to watch the team in action. Due to Covid restrictions over the past few years, she hasn’t been able to witness any of Amelia’s robotic tournaments.
“I’ve seen it in practice but that’s when all the fails happen!”
So much to look forward to
Amelia – who had a fascination with trains when she was younger – says she’s always liked robotics.
“I like building and seeing how things work. I like getting to make something from scratch and then see it work. I like the challenge.”
And while she’s aiming high in the world of robotics, Amelia is also preparing to try out next year for the state baseball team.
A player with the Northern Districts Baseball Club, last year she played at a state level as part of the Barclay Cup State team – the first all-girls South Australian team to compete at this level.
“I’d like to have a career in STEM – in the defence force or airspace engineering – something hands-on where I can do programming and also build something,” says Amelia.
“I don’t want to be sitting at a desk all day.”