Accommodating Adolescents with Severe ASD Symptoms in an Extracurricular Technology Club

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
K. Nester1, M. Stotz2, A. S. Huschke1, F. Mancuso2, K. Tang2, H. Miller2 and J. Kaboski2, (1)Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN, (2)University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN
Background: Extracurricular clubs have been identified as natural opportunities for adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to gain support, practice social skills, explore topics of interest, and form relationships with peers that share those interests (Carter, Harvey, Taylor, & Gotham, 2013). Unfortunately, adolescents with severe ASD symptoms may be turned away from participation in extracurricular activities, as public schools are not required to provide aides for such programming. There is a need to develop a novel approach to include adolescents with ASD who are in effect barred from participating in school-sponsored after school extracurricular programs.

Objectives: The Computer and Technology (CAT) Club provided an engaging and supportive environment for adolescents with ASD to interact with typically developing peers with similar interests. Three of the participants had challenging behaviors that posed serious barriers to full inclusion. In depth case studies are reported to shed light on some potentially effective means of accommodating the unique needs of such adolescents who might still benefit from extracurricular programs when appropriate supports are provided.

Methods: The three participants selected for case studies were part of a larger study that included 11 individuals with ASD and 8 typically developing (TD) peers, ages 12-17, who expressed interest in technology. Participants were not labeled as having ASD, and social/vocational training was given to all participants regardless of diagnosis. Before the start of the club, participants took a test that assessed their knowledge of computer programming and robotics; they took the same test at the conclusion of the club in order to gauge any improvement in their knowledge. While all 19 participants were initially paired with similar aged peers to work as partners, it became evident that three of the participants could not work effectively with peers due to severe communication, social, or sensory problems. These participants were paired with trained volunteer college students who in effect served as one-on-one aides. The volunteers took daily notes; patterns from these notes comprise the data for the case studies. The notes consisted of open-ended narratives as well as answers to structured questions. Case study notes were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively in search of patterns of improvements in behavior and social skills that may suggest best ways to support individuals with extra challenges and unique needs.

Results: All three participants experienced significant gains in their knowledge of computer programming and robotics (see Table 1). Qualitative data will be analyzed and presented as case studies (see notes in Table 2).

Conclusions: Preliminary qualitative analysis shows improvement of social behavior and increased peer interaction. Furthermore, despite their challenging behaviors, all three of them made significant gains in their knowledge of technology which could be used to further their vocational options in the future. These results provide support for the benefits of involvement in extracurricular activities for adolescents with severe ASD symptoms and problem behaviors. The use of college student volunteers offers a cost effective solution when schools or parents cannot afford a one-on-one aide for this purpose.