Building Capacity for Inclusive Informal STEM Learning Opportunities for People with ASD

The number of individuals and families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is increasing every year, and many museums, zoos, and other free-choice learning spaces are developing specialized programs for individuals with ASD individually and locally. A coordinated effort that builds on the learning from one organization to another is sorely lacking. This Innovations in Development project seeks to strengthen Informal STEM Education (ISE) providers’ ability to engage individuals with ASD in mainstream projects and exhibits and promote more inclusive environments. This project is Phase I of a planned longer-term effort and will engage four Arizona museums in a research-based design study aimed at developing and implementing customized PD programs and evidence-based changes at their institutions. The Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC), which has a strong history of providing extensive, customized training in formal and home settings, and will provide the training, and, with the PI, will identify which elements of the training are most essential to support organizational change.

Building on the training, the partner museums will launch new approaches and programs, apply new skills in formative evaluation, and develop internal training programs. They will also be the founding organizations for a Community of Practice (CoP) aimed at sharing best practices and promoting broader engagement among the FCL community. As well, a pilot research study will recruit diverse families to visit each institution pre- and post-ISE staff training once per year to 1) measure training impacts on attendees, and 2) assess the science learning that occurred as a result of their visit.

As well, a National Inventory of FCL ASD programs will be created to support future research.

Partners in this endeavor are the SciTech Institute, Dr. J Babendure, Co-PI; The Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, Dr. C. Smith, Co-PI; The Arizona Museum of Natural History; the i.d.e.a. Museum, Pueblo Grande Museum, and the Arizona Science Center.

Project Team: Judith Koke