Ideas: Inventing, Designing and Engineering on the Autism Spectrum

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 11, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
K. P. Koenig1, W. Martin2, R. Vidiksis2 and Y. L. Chen1, (1)Occupational Therapy, New York University, New York, NY, (2)EDC, New York, NY
Background: Preparation for a career as an inventor, designer, or engineer requires that students not only learn disciplinary knowledge, but also to engage in scientific and engineering practices. These abilities are difficult for most students to master, but they can be particularly challenging for students with ASD, who often struggle with peer interactions, critical reflection, executive function, and communication yet have a high interest in the STEM fields. The overarching goal for this project is for a collaborative team of researchers, program developers, ASD educators and students to create an inclusive design and engineering program for middle-school students with ASD and general education peers

Objectives: To explore preliminary indicators of positive social behavior during a high interest inclusive STEM club for middle school students with and without an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Methods: A 10-week afterschool program (Maker Club) was conducted in a large urban district in three pilot schools with six teachers and 37 students (14 with ASD and 23 without). Researchers conducted structured observations of every program session (n=50), a mid-year focus group with all six teachers, and post-implementation focus groups with the two teachers at each of the three pilot schools (N=6), to gather data about their experience at different stages in the program. As a result of this initial data collection, a Behavioral Coding Scheme will be used (Bauminger, 2002) during the Fall of 2017 to code social initiation and response in 3 main behavioral categories: positive social interaction, negative social interaction, and low-level social interaction. Observations and coding will be made in two 15-minute periods (2 before treatment 2 after treatment in the study) and data will be coded for presence of behavior in 1-min intervals.

Results: Initial results from the focus groups and structured observations indicate that over the 10 week period, students with ASD showed an increased frequency of social initiations that included a) asking for help from their peers, b) direct questioning of their peers for information about their projects, c) initiation of spontaneous conversations while working on Maker activities, and d) increased social initiations with students without an ASD. As a result of these findings a behavioral coding scheme will be used in the fall of 2017 to examine social interaction systematically and these findings will be presented along with the preliminary data from structured observations and focus groups.

Conclusions: An after school STEM club that is designed and implemented by a collaborative team of general education and special education teachers, engineering students and science museum personnel shows promise in generating a higher frequency of social initiations and duration of social interactions for students with ASD. By starting from a place of strength and interest rather than remediation, students can be motivated to internalize and integrate practices that are difficult for them—namely, those that support development of social and functional skills.