In the world of STEM, there are a lot of groups that are underrepresented, including women and people of color. But another less talked about group is those with disabilities. Making STEM an inclusive place for everyone is essential and is something that teachers and others should strive to do. In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, it’s important to remember that sometimes, all that is needed to get more people involved in a subject is by changing it slightly so that it is more accessible to them. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, have the same capabilities to succeed in STEM as anyone else, but because they learn differently, they sometimes need their classrooms to be modified for them to succeed. Here are four ways to help make STEM education more inclusive to those with ASD.
Use different language and reward systems when teaching STEM to recognize the ability to keep working to solve problems when faced with failure. Instead of only praising students when they achieve success, praise students throughout the entire process of experimentation. The only failure in STEM is the one you don’t learn from. Praising effort is a way to encourage a growth mindset in the classroom, which is helpful for students who learn differently.
Effective STEM teaching requires the use of hands-on opportunities so students can understand how things work for themselves. Offer students coding opportunities or the chance to go outside and explore nature for science lessons. Tangible learning helps to bring STEM to life for students and especially helps those with ASD internalize abstract concepts and form a deeper interest in the subject.
Sending students home with homework on concepts they don’t fully grasp often results in a student growing frustrated with the subject and feeling discouraged. Flipped classrooms operate differently. Students are sent home with articles to read or videos to watch on a concept. Then, they come back to school with questions for their teacher and then work on these new concepts with a teacher present to assist them if they get stuck. This support makes a noticeable difference in students who learn differently.
Apps and other types of technology make learning about STEM easier and more accessible by offering individualized practice. Providing voice-to-text software can help students who struggle with fine motor or writing skills complete their work easier. Video lessons can be an excellent option for students with reading difficulties. Making sure your teaching materials are accommodating for students with different abilities will help set up all students for success in STEM.
XX Coders is also striving to make their work inclusive to those with disabilities through their Friendship Circle group. This program helps teach computer coding to students with ASD and other special abilities.