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Project Descriptions

Developing Guidelines for Neurodiversity-Affirming Engineering Programs in Museums and Science Centers through Universal Design for Learning

September 1, 2023 - August 31, 2026 | Exhibitions, Public Programs

Historically, many informal learning institutions have not accounted for neurological differences as they planned learning experiences, or they have offered separate programming for autistic individuals to accommodate sensory or behavioral differences. This project will address the limitations of these previous approaches by developing and testing neurodiversity-affirming guidelines for engineering programs in museums and science centers. These guidelines will be designed to foster a sense of belonging for neurodivergent individuals by prioritizing their full inclusion in informal learning spaces, and by framing different ways of thinking as inherently valuable to engineering and to society. To develop these programs, museum practitioners from geographically diverse institutions will partner with autistic youth and their families to iteratively co-develop and evaluate three informal engineering programs that are transferrable and adaptable across sites. These programs will be grounded in principles of Universal Design for Learning, as interpreted and applied by the youth and practitioners. These principles include offering multiple tools and materials for engineering design; using multiple representations and modalities to introduce content relevant to engineering challenges; fostering engagement through situating the engineering challenges in real-world contexts; providing autonomy and choice; normalizing the use of numerous types of supports; and encouraging learners to build on personal interests and strengths. After the engineering programs and accompanying guidelines have been co-developed and tested across sites, the project team will use them to provide professional learning opportunities to museum practitioners across the nation. Research will explore whether and how the integration of Universal Design for Learning fosters a sense of belongingness for neurodiverse children and their caregivers in informal engineering programs. Ultimately, this project will result in a comprehensive suite of materials and research-based guidelines on how to foster a sense of belongingness for neurodiverse youth in programming offered by informal learning institutions.

In this project, three informal engineering programs will be iteratively developed and refined at the New York Hall of Science in New York City; the Explora science center and children's museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. At each site, autistic youth (ages 8-12) and their caregivers will work with museum practitioners to co-develop the programs, which will be grounded in principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and designed to foster belongingness among neurodiverse youth. Researchers from Education Development Center will guide participatory design research to investigate whether and how the UDL-based programs influence neurodiverse youth's engagement in engineering design processes; and whether and how UDL fosters a sense of belongingness for neurodiverse youth and their caregivers. To achieve these research purposes, the project team will generate data such as interviews with the youth co-designers and participants; interviews with family members; observations of youth participating in the program; and surveys of children and their caregivers. Thematic analyses using inductive and deductive methods, such as coding schemes from existing belongingness surveys, will be used to analyze the data. Resulting materials include a practitioner guidebook for creating neurodiversity-affirming programs in museums and science centers; professional learning materials for museum educators; descriptions of the three informal engineering programs as exemplars; observation tools and other instruments to evaluate programs; and guidelines for using co-design processes to develop informal learning programs. These materials will be disseminated widely through a Community of Practice hosted by the Association of Science and Technology Centers, as well as through journals, conferences, and networks for stakeholders in museums and science centers.


Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2313850
Funding Amount: $1,235,328.00


  • REVISE logo
    Principal Investigator
    New York Hall of Science
  • Sylvia Perez
    Co-Principal Investigator
    New York Hall of Science
  • Wendy Martin
    Co-Principal Investigator
    Education Development Center
  • Resource Type: Projects | Project Descriptions
    Discipline: Engineering
    Audience: Families | Youth/Teen (up to 17)
    Environment Type: Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Museum and Science Center Programs
    Access and Inclusion: People with Disabilities

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