Project Profile

IDEAS: Inventing, Designing, and Engineering on the Autism Spectrum


With current research indicating that up to one in 68 children is on the autism spectrum, it is critical to create programs that prepare students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to achieve their full potential in the workforce. This three-year project will bring together a team of researchers, Maker program developers from New York Hall of Science, educators with expertise in supporting students with ASD, and students on the autism spectrum to create a hybrid formal/informal program that prepares middle-school students with and without ASD for careers as inventors, designers, and engineers. The goal is for the program to be sustainably implemented in New York City's ASD inclusion middle schools by educators in those schools. Not only will this project benefit students, educators, and staff in the largest and most diverse ASD inclusion program in the country, it also will serve as a model of collaborative program development and implementation that other ASD inclusion programs in urban school districts can follow. This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics contributing new knowledge about how theoretically grounded, research-based techniques for supporting students with ASD can be incorporated into Maker programs, and how to implement such programs in formal and informal inclusion education settings. This will expand our understanding of design and engineering workforce preparation for middle school students with ASD, provide a model for how to translate informal STEM programs to school-based environments, and demonstrate how such cross-setting programs can be tailored by stakeholders to various educational contexts. The resources made available through this project will support the adaptation of the program by other districts.

The researchers will use Clements' (2007) Curriculum Research Framework to structure a collaborative co-design approach, organized around the following phases of work. Phase 1: Collaborative program redesign. Test and redesign a museum-based Design and Fabrication Make Academy afterschool program to include techniques for supporting students with ASD, and to add classroom and lunchtime components to the afterschool program. Phase 2: Pilot test and revise. Conduct a pilot test of the redesigned program and research instruments in three inclusion middle schools, and make revisions based on findings. Phase 3: Research study. Implement the revised program and conduct research that examines whether it shows promise for (a) helping program participants learn the Engineering Design Process, (b) increasing the science and engineering interest and career motivation of program participants, and (c) creating a sustainable program and implementation process for urban ASD inclusion programs.


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Principal Investigator(s)
Co-Principal Investigator(s)


Award Number
Project Duration
2016 - 2019
Education Development Center, Waltham, MA
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
Middle school (6-8)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Informal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Disciplines
Engineering - design
Additional Target Participants
Students eligible for Free/reduced price lunch
Students with disabilities
Black or African American
Hispanic or Latino