January 2023: Embracing Neurodiversity in STEM

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This theme and panel focus on the connections between neurodiversity and STEM problem solving. Some of the same aspects of neurodiversity that are often characterized as deficits in learning are accompanied by talents that can be harnessed for STEM problem solving. Neurodivergent learners often bring unique strengths to STEM problem solving and should be encouraged and supported in their innovative ways of thinking. The projects discussed on this upcoming panel focus on novel pedagogical approaches to highlight neurodivergent thinkers' creativity, persistence, attention to detail, systematic thinking while also supporting their executive function. View Blog >>

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January Expert Panel: Embracing Neurodiversity in STEM

Recorded: January 24, 2023 at 12:30pm EST
Description:This panel focuses on the connections between neurodiversity and STEM problem solving. Some of the same aspects of neurodiversity that are often characterized as deficits in learning are accompanied by talents that can be harnessed for STEM problem solving. Neurodivergent learners often bring unique strengths to STEM problem solving and should be encouraged and supported in their innovative ways of thinking. The projects discussed on this panel focus on novel pedagogical approaches to highlight neurodivergent thinkers' creativity, persistence, attention to detail, systematic thinking while also supporting their executive function.


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Discussion

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Public Discussion
  • Icon for: Tony Martin

    Tony Martin

    January 24, 2023 | 01:53 p.m.

    Nice to connect! A pleasure to see folks talking about this honestly and sincerely and not automatically treating Autistics as defective, only as different!

  • Icon for: Diane Simpson Brown

    Diane Simpson Brown

    January 24, 2023 | 02:04 p.m.

    Would love to connect with the other folks from Washington State. I'm grappling with whether I should focus my time on developing student support for neurodivergent learners in stand-alone courses/services (similar to Bellevue College's Neurodiversity Navigators program) or focusing more on faculty training to educate them on embedded instruction and universal design. I am only on sabbatical for a few more months at Everett Community College. Nice to meet you all!

  • January 24, 2023 | 02:09 p.m.

    I am so happy to meet other people interested in autism advocacy and look forward to continuing our discussion. I appreciated Tony's comments about how we could have done a better job in advertising our session, providing more information about the structure ahead of time. I will definitely keep this in mind for future presentations. Diane, I am working on similar issues at the college level now, and would love to talk with you more about this. I don't actually know the answer to your question, we are hoping to get some NSF funding to work on this within the Cal State system (CSU) which has only one campus (East Bay) with a specific support program for students.

  • Icon for: Diane Simpson Brown

    Diane Simpson Brown

    January 24, 2023 | 02:21 p.m.

    Thanks, Lynn. I think a huge hurdle is the stigma around autism and students don't want to be singled out or seen as different or needing extra help. The term neurodivergence helps a lot with that, but not all are ready to embrace it. It goes back to the argument of something being part of one's identity versus a disability, so this is huge in my mind right now. Many of the STEM faculty at my college exhibit tons of ND signs, but because of their age have no Dx. They are also ironicly, some of the most challenging to get to open up on this conversation.

  • January 24, 2023 | 02:46 p.m.

    Vis-a-vis the question of identity vs. disability: As a heads up, it's worth noting that many versions of this question are rooted in Ablism. The neurodiversity movement questions the medical/pathologized cultural construction of "Autism is a disease" and instead pivots to something closer to "Society disables autistic people". In other words, it's still a (culturally constructed and culturally situated) disability, but not some inherently "bad" pathology/deviation from normal. In short, Autism is both an identity and a disability.

    Another conversation I think I hear you thinking about in your choice of language is the question of person-first vs. identity-first language. Within the autistic community, identity-first is most popular, minimally because person-first is commonly rooted in Ablism (e.g. "I want to separate the person from the 'disease' of autism"). Autism isn't a disease separable from who we are, but is instead a neurology which is fundamental to how we experience the world (and how the world experiences us).

  • January 24, 2023 | 03:20 p.m.

    I think some of the discussion around universal design is relevant to you as well here, Diane - currently, most courses are designed for a "typical" student, and anyone who doesn't fit those expectations is allowed to ask for extra help (through an IEP at the K-12 level or through a university's accommodations office). Students have to identify themselves (or the school has to identify them) as "disabled" to access the support they need.

    If courses were set up so that anyone could choose the options that are made available for autistic learners - like different ways of demonstrating mastery - it would take away some of the stigma around using these options, and probably benefit a lot of learners who are neurotypical as well as those who don't know yet that they are neurodivergent.

  • Icon for: Sam Tumolo

    Sam Tumolo

    January 25, 2023 | 10:19 a.m.

    Totally! Universal Design is also beneficial because a lot of autistic girls, people of color, and trans folk are often undiagnosed, and therefore don't have access to the supports they need. So if programs are designed to include everybody, then these individuals have access to an accessible education. 

  • Icon for: Teon Edwards

    Teon Edwards

    January 25, 2023 | 11:14 a.m.

    I'm a huge proponent of universal design and entirely agree with the above. I'll, also, however add that overwhelm and cognitive load can be a challenge for some learners (or really for all of us at least some of the time), so there are tricky questions about how to integrate options / UDL offerings in ways that are response to this and not adding to the problem. (e.g., In a tech or game environment, offering too many things that can be customized can have the unintended consequence of people not customizing anything because the options are, themselves, overwhelming.)

    I'd love to hear how people attempting UDL have made decisions about what to include or not include, as well as how to present the offerings.

  • January 25, 2023 | 11:28 a.m.

    Getting started with UDL....might start here.  There's a lot of other resources on the BioQUEST/QUBES hub

     

    Many people think that UDL applies only to people with sight or hearing impairments, but this is not accurate.

     

     The guidelines are about reaching all students through multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representing material and multiple ways to show learning. Taken together, the Guidelines lead to the ultimate goal of UDL: to develop “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed, purposeful and motivated.

     

     

    Today we will explore a worksheet and also reflect on who are learners are and what their goals and aspirations mean to the learning environment.

     

    So first I want you to take a few minutes to think about YOUR students.  Do you have people with dyslexia, autism, different learning styles, different goals and aspirations?  That may help you decide where to begin.  Please write a bit in the chat about your learners.

     

    Then we will briefly go thru some of the strategies and see where you might want to begin.  UDL is meant to be iterative and you don’t have to do everything at once.

    https://udlguidelines.cast.org/

     

    https://udlguidelines.cast.org/engagement

    https://udlguidelines.cast.org/representation

    https://udlguidelines.cast.org/action-expression

    https://udlguidelines.cast.org/more/frequently-asked-questions

    https://udlguidelines.cast.org/more/about-graphic-organizer

     

     

    https://mlpp.pressbooks.pub/mavlearn/front-matt...

    Hasley, A. O., Orndorf, H. (2022). Getting Started with Universal Design for Learning. Universal Design for Learning, QUBES Educational Resources. doi:10.25334/8EC1-V892

    Three resources for faculty interested in an introduction to Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This module contains three resources for getting started with CAST's Universal Design for Learning framework. We suggest moving through the resources in order: 

    • Introduction to the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines
    • UDL Mapping Activity
    • Applying UDL to Existing Materials

    These activities can be completed independently but there is great benefit to sharing and discussing your responses, mappings, and ideas with others. https://qubeshub.org/publications/2837/1

    Hasley, A. O., Orndorf, H. (2021). UDL Mapping Activity. Universal Design for Learning, QUBES Educational Resources. doi:10.25334/E9D6-YE29

    Using the UDL Guidelines as an analysis tool promotes a deeper understanding of UDL checkpoints, provides practice in recognizing alignment between UDL checkpoints and instructional strategies, and yields a result that highlights patterns and areas of improvement within the material. In this activity, faculty select a short, modular resource, either one they developed or something they use regularly, identify the learning objectives, and then conduct a UDL Mapping. Examples and templates for conducting a mapping are included. https://qubeshub.org/publications/2770/1

    https://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1200&context=lib_services_fac_pubs

    10 Strategies for Engaging Learners with Universal Design for Learning
    and Antiracism
    Published version online: https://mlpp.pressbooks.pub/mavlearn/chapter/10...-
    learners-with-universal-design-for-learning-and-antiracism/

     

    Hasley, A. O., Orndorf, H. (2021). Introduction to the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. Universal Design for Learning, QUBES Educational Resources. doi:10.25334/3MJJ-4D08

    https://qubeshub.org/publications/2769/1

    The Universal Design for Learning Guidelines were developed by CAST in the 1990s using learning and neuroscience research. The UDL Guidelines advocate for designing learning environments and materials to plan for variability rather than average, better supporting all learners in becoming experts in how they learn. With its three principles, nine guidelines, and 31 checkpoints the UDL framework can at first be overwhelming. The activities included in this module are intended to guide faculty, instructors, and professional developers towards a foundational understanding of UDL. The activities include: 

    • Universal Design for Learning Guidelines
    • Cultivating a UDL Mindset

     

    Hasley, A. O., Orndorf, H. (2021). UDL Guidelines Workbook. Universal Design for Learning, QUBES Educational Resources. doi:10.25334/FJDE-KT82

    https://qubeshub.org/publications/1836/1

    Hasley, A. O., Orndorf, H. (2021). UDL Guidelines Workbook. Universal Design for Learning, QUBES Educational Resources. doi:10.25334/FJDE-KT82

    https://qubeshub.org/publications/1836/1

    In the spreadsheet the UDL guidelines and checkpoints are linked to their full descriptions and examples at CAST There is space to map pieces of a learning resource or activity to the guidelines. Analyzing a resource with the spreadsheet can act as an exercise to familiarize yourself with the guidelines, identify how a resource aligns to the UDL guidelines, and identify where additional options for engagement, representation, and action & expression could be applied. 

     

    Short exercise

    Take some time exploring the UDL Guidelines on CAST's website and review this video, The UDL Guidelines in Under 5 Minutes.

    Helpful Resources

     

     

  • Icon for: Sam Tumolo

    Sam Tumolo

    January 25, 2023 | 05:56 p.m.

    Patricia, this is so so so great! Thanks for putting all of these resources together, I can't wait to read through. 

  • January 24, 2023 | 02:38 p.m.

    Peace, all. Appreciated the opportunity to hear what these researchers were up to. In the future, hoping to see them incorporate more Critical perspectives from the autistic community and other neurodivergent communities, e.g. moving beyond "labor preparation" as hegemony, attending to intersectionality, and so forth.

  • January 24, 2023 | 02:45 p.m.

    Thank you for your comments during the breakout session David, they were appreciated. You pushed myself and some of the others out of our comfort zones and in a good way. I am always looking to bring in new perspectives into my own research and if you are interested would love to discuss ideas for future lines of work if you are interested in collaborating.

  • January 24, 2023 | 02:53 p.m.

    Thank you for the kind words! I'm very open to the possibility of collaboration - Will drop you an email.

  • Icon for: Teon Edwards

    Teon Edwards

    January 25, 2023 | 09:18 a.m.

    Hi, David. Thanks from me, too, for sharing your perspective and expertise.

    And thank you for both speaking up to fill a silence and clearly letting everyone, especially those who hadn't spoken yet, know they were welcome to "take the floor" back from you. I think I've usually run a decent meeting, but over the last few years, I learned a lot more about when and how to speak up and when to stay silent, about how to encourage and support people in sharing their ideas and otherwise contributing, and about how to encourage ans support others to consciously step back and not overly stear a conversation. There's a real art and balance to this, one I'm still learning, and I'm very appreciative when I get to see others engaging in this, too.

  • January 24, 2023 | 04:49 p.m.

    It was great meeting everyone today in the webinar. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and ideas. You can always learn more about our work at https://www.terc.edu/edge/

     

    We would love to collaborate with educators who are trying to make their teaching and learning more inclusive of neurodivergent learners. We are looking for schools and districts who would like to be part of a longer term research partners (with lots of perks for the districts!) and allies who want to help us get the message out there. Whoever you are - get in touch :) 

    Use the contact for or email Kelly_paulson@terc.edu. Thanks! - Jodi

  • Icon for: Kelly Paulson

    Kelly Paulson

    January 25, 2023 | 01:00 p.m.

    Please let me know if there any questions about INFACT and the teaching and learning materials there, or if you'd like to be kept informed of upcoming opportunities related to our expanding work! edge_admin@terc.edu

  • January 26, 2023 | 12:47 p.m.

    We want to encourage autistic high school students who are interested in NASA to apply to the 2023 N3 summer internship program. Details about the program and the application process can be found here: http://n3.sonoma.edu/internships - Recordings of the final project presentations by 2021 and 2022 interns can also be viewed at this website. The application period will close on March 6, 2023.

  • January 27, 2023 | 01:18 p.m.

    Great to see the discussion continuing. Sam and I are hoping to work on applying UDL guidelines to co-create neurodiversity-affirming museum and science center programs with young people, so the resources that Patricia shared are especially appreciated.

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