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Developing the Spatial Skills of Neurodiverse Students

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Design Graphics Division Technical Session 3

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Paper Authors

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Sheryl Sorby University of Cincinnati

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Savannah Stark University of Cincinnati

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Christina Carnahan University of Cincinnati

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Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and/or Autism (IwD) are among the smallest group of individuals with disabilities attending college. However, as these individuals exit our school systems, they are increasingly seeking both postsecondary education opportunities and competitively paid employment in STEM fields. Unfortunately, while options are improving, access to STEM related post-secondary education and employment remain limited. IwD often experience learning and communication challenges that manifest as difficulties related to executive function and social relationships. Thus, individuals are likely to experience unique challenges that make adjusting to postsecondary and employment settings difficult. Investigating creative education solutions for IwD that support both the development of STEM skills necessary for employment and also promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills is one possible way to address the unique challenges presented by an untapped talent pool and the low employment rates of the group. One approach that may prove promising for increasing STEM education and employment opportunities for IwD is spatial visualization skills instruction, and some research suggests such an approach may also be beneficial for IwD. This research team implemented two pilot studies to explore: 1)how the Developing Spatial Thinking (DST) curriculum developed by Sorby (cite) influence the spatial skills of IwD; 2) what modifications are needed to make the curriculum more accessible for IwD; 3) limitations or benefits of virtual versus in-person teaching for this particular population; and 4) perceptions of IwD regarding the curriculum and their capacity for success in STEM. Results, although limited, indicate IwD can improve spatial visualization skills through exposure to the curriculum. This paper includes results from these pilots and discusses plans for expanding the scope of this work in the future, including expanding the intervention to include CAD instruction, in partnership with Siemens, to develop a STEM career pathway for IwD.

Sorby, S., & Stark, S., & Carnahan, C. (2022, August), Developing the Spatial Skills of Neurodiverse Students Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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