If you are teaching computer science, you probably already know how understanding computing benefits all young people. But for the one in five children who have learning or attention issues like ADHD or autism, opportunities to learn CS may be limited. This is even more challenging in out-of-school learning where instructors may not have experience or training in addressing the special needs of their learners.
You may also have heard that computer science careers are well-suited for people with autism. In fact, this is true in many cases, but young adults with attention issues can face unexpected challenges when starting college or careers. We want to provide resources you can use to help prepare children with autism for careers in computer science. Here are three things you can do to include all learners.
The first is to leverage strengths and manage challenges. Recognizing both the strengths and challenges of each person is key to successfully integrating neurodiverse learners. Learn what to expect from learners with autism and be attentive to what makes each learner unique. Different brains bring different and exciting strengths to computing. Leverage individual strengths and interests to build learners’ competence and confidence.
Many children on the ASD spectrum find that computer code is predictable, rote, and follows a set of finite rules–which makes it comfortable for them to work with. Young people with ASD may also be big consumers of technology—use this interest to help them shift into producers of digital technology.
The second thing you can do is maintain a growth mindset. A growth mindset is a belief that all people can learn through practice and hard work–and it includes the belief that you can improve as an instructor through practice and reflection. A growth mindset emphasizes the role of persistence, hard work, self-regulation, and effort to learning and other accomplishments at school or work.
Third, provide additional support for social interaction. People with autism often have the desire to interact with others, but do not have the skills to engage appropriately or may be overwhelmed by the process. Some children are painfully aware of their social deficits and will avoid interactions even though they desperately want to connect with others. Others will engage in attention-seeking behavior to connect with others until they build the skills they need to interact. Practicing and building social skills is beneficial for all learners. And in particular, it may support ongoing interest and interaction for learners with attention issues.
Making a concentrated effort to meet the needs of learners with autism will help you develop your skills to support CS learning for all young people and help all the participants in your program be better prepared for a career in CS–or in any field. Be inspired by Sean’s story about how finding an employer who knew how to utilize his strengths gave him confidence and purpose in life. You can use these resources to train your team to facilitate inclusive learning experiences for computer science.
Saundra Wever Frerichs, Science Education Specialist, Click2SciencePD
“My work – tightly focused on informal science education – has included efforts with 4-H and other youth development organizations and museums in the US and UK. In the area of developing resources for learning, my work has included museum-based programs for youth, adults, and educators; science learning kits; museum gallery exhibits and traveling exhibits; youth curricula; and educator professional development.”