Promoting Engagement in Informal STEM Learning as a Path to Employment for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder
2020 to 2023

Many people with autism are unemployed or underemployed because they do not have access to educational opportunities that support them in finding jobs that match their potential. This NSF AISL research project seeks to empower adolescents with autism to seek out careers that are well-matched with their strengths and interests. This grant was awarded to New York University and the City University of New York in collaboration with the not-for-profit informal educational program Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU). CCT|EDC will conduct the external summative evaluation for this project.

The project has the following aims: (1) to Identify evidence-based strategies to engage youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in informal STEM learning opportunities that are well matched to their attentional profiles; (2) to determine if engaging youth with ASD in informal STEM learning opportunities increases their STEM self-efficacy; and (3) to determine whether engagement with STEM internship activities is associated with increased interest in STEM careers and career decision-making self-efficacy. Participants in this research study will attend a free game design workshop at TKU and rate the learning opportunities they experience at the workshop. This feedback will be used to improve future workshops and will help researchers develop “diversity blueprints,” or specific and effective instructional strategies that are tailored to the needs of each student. Participants will then be given the opportunity to undertake internships at a tech company, allowing researchers to determine if the strategies identified at TKU generalize to internship sites.

EDC’s external evaluation will investigate the impact of new instructional strategies based on student attentional profiles on computational thinking as a critical skill for those hoping to enter STEM careers and the fidelity of implementation of TKU curriculum.