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Where Resources End and Teaching Begins: Experience with Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Freshman Engineering Curriculum

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2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting


Tempe, Arizona

Publication Date

April 20, 2017

Start Date

April 20, 2017

End Date

April 22, 2017

Conference Session

Technical Session 5c

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Pacific Southwest Section

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Paper Authors


Deana R. Delp Arizona State University

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Deana R. Delp has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Arizona State University. She is currently a lecturer at Arizona State University for Engineering Academic and Student Affairs in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She has previous industry experience as a systems engineer for General Dynamics Mission Systems, and as a research and development product engineer for Test Acuity Solutions.

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A growing number of students diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are enrolling in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula in college. This paper will focus on first year engineering students, and the importance of identifying and accommodating the students with an ASD through their academic career. It is becoming more common to have a student with an ASD in the classroom. Colleges have a variety of resources to assist ASD students, however some students will sign up for this assistance, while others do not. Beyond the college resources the instructor must fill in the gaps to ensure student success. First, the instructor must recognize the ASD student and the student’s learning style. The needs of the student and the learning styles vary by individual. For freshman year instructors it may be difficult to determine these needs in a timely manner, since most students do not self-disclose their disability. Observation and communication with the student are key in this step. Many first year engineering courses utilize individual and group work with both written assignments and “hands-on” projects including writing, drawing, problem solving, scheduling, budgeting, and craftsmanship. The diverse skillset and behaviors exhibited during these classes help give the instructor insight on the student’s strengths and interests. Many ASD students succeed academically in creative and unconventional ways. Next, the instructor can provide accommodations in the form of enhanced group work and/or individual work, direct communication, and guided learning techniques. This is a continuous process for the instructor, where some needs may not be met or recognized in a single semester. Having a diverse student population also impacts the students working alongside the ASD student. Through proper direction and encouragement from the instructor, the students become more conscientious team members and better prepared for employment after college. Finally, it is important for the freshman instructor to communicate with other instructors in the curriculum path to allow a fluid transfer of accommodations to the ASD student through their academic career.

Delp, D. R. (2017, April), Where Resources End and Teaching Begins: Experience with Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Freshman Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2017 Pacific Southwest Section Meeting, Tempe, Arizona.

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