With current research indicating that up to one in 68 children is on the autism spectrum, it is critical to create programs that prepare students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to achieve their full potential in the workforce. This three-year Innovative Technology Experience for Students and Teachers (ITEST) Strategies project will bring together a team of researchers, Maker program developers from New York Hall of Science, educators with expertise in supporting students with ASD, and students on the autism spectrum to create a hybrid formal/informal program that prepares middle-school students with and without ASD for careers as inventors, designers, and engineers. The goal is for the program to be sustainably implemented in New York City's ASD inclusion middle schools by educators in those schools.
The IDEAS project will build new knowledge about how theoretically grounded, research-based techniques for supporting students with ASD can be incorporated into Maker programs, and how to implement such programs in formal and informal inclusion education settings. This will expand our understanding of design and engineering workforce preparation for middle-school students with ASD, provide a model for how to translate informal STEM programs to school-based environments, and demonstrate how such cross-setting programs can be tailored by stakeholders to various educational contexts. The resources made available through this project will support the adaptation of the program by other districts.