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Development of a University-Community Partnership to Offer Informal Computer Science Opportunities to Children and Youth Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder

July 1, 2023 - November 30, 2024 | Public Programs

The purpose of this project is to establish and foster a new partnership between the University of Alabama and Arts 'n Autism, a community organization that provides supervised after-school care and outreach to children and youth with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There have been limited opportunities for youth with ASD diagnoses to engage in many learning opportunities due to pre-existing societal barriers for individuals with disabilities, such as stigma and a lack of accommodations. There are also additional barriers specific to individuals with ASD diagnoses, such as sensory sensitivities and diminished social communication, which impede their full participation. Partnering with an organization that serves children and youth with ASD will provide an innovative structure to tailor the delivery of an informal learning program focusing on robotics and coding. The goal of this project is to engage with stakeholders, including staff (n=4), children and youth ages 10-14 with a diagnosis of ASD (n=5-10), and the parents of individuals diagnosed with ASD (n=10-20) to determine and document their needs and preferences for engaging in informal computer science learning. The project will develop novel informal learning opportunities for children and youth with ASD diagnoses via robotics and coding as the means of engagement to build capacity and community in STEM.

The objectives for this project are to: 1) Gather and inventory stakeholder input; 2) Determine the needs and preferences of partners and constituents and the necessary components of a viable partnership; 3) Facilitate partnership check-ins and lead workshop planning discussions on future planning; and 4) Collaboratively plan a future informal research and development project aimed at implementing and evaluating robotics and coding with children diagnosed with ASD to generate opportunities and interest in STEM. Data collected for this project will include: 1) Parent interviews and questionnaires that will help the researchers determine appropriate ways to engage youth with ASD in robotics and coding in an informal setting, 2) Observations during unstructured assessments of preferences as youth with ASD engage with robotics and coding, 3) Observations, field notes, and transcripts from partnership planning meetings. Data will be analyzed using a concurrent mixed methods design. The project will produce a new STEM-focused partnership with an organization that serves children and youth diagnosed with ASD.


Funding Program: Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST); Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 2313418
Funding Amount: $149,996.00


  • Amy Hutchison
    Principal Investigator
    University of Alabama
  • Lucy Barnard-Brak
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Alabama
  • Resource Type: Project Descriptions | Projects
    Discipline: Engineering | General STEM
    Audience: Elementary School Children (6-10) | Learning Researchers | Middle School Children (11-13)
    Environment Type: Afterschool Programs
    Access and Inclusion: People with Disabilities

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