A three-year, $300,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow Dr. Brad Cox (Executive Director of the College Autism Network and Associate Professor of Education at Florida State University) to examine how autism-related characteristics influence student performance in traditional “gateway” courses for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors. The study is set to become the largest ever conducted on autism-related characteristics among college students in the United States.
More than 16,000 students with autism begin college each year, where one in three pursue a major in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Characteristics sometimes associated with autism – like the ability to observe, identify, construct, and apply logical systems of reasoning – mean students with autism may be particularly well-suited for work in STEM fields. Other characteristics often associated with autism – like rigid patterns of thought or anxiety associated with social awkwardness – might interfere with students’ success in high-stress gateway courses like Calculus or Chemistry.
This NSF study will examine the possibility that an already existing but underutilized intervention could serve as a low-cost, high-yield mechanism to help college students with autism leverage their unique characteristics to complete their degrees, enter the workforce, and contribute to the national economy.
“One commonly cited statistic suggests that 1 in every 68 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a rate of diagnosis that has more than doubled in the last decade,” said Cox. “Students with autism are increasingly making their way to college. Yet it is unclear whether current support systems in postsecondary institutions are ready or able to facilitate these students’ success.”
To help translate emerging research into real-world improvements in students’ well-being and educational achievement, Cox recently established the nonprofit College Autism Network (CAN). Results from the NSF study will be shared on CAN’s wesbsite (www.CollegeAutismNetwork.org), Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CollegeAutismNetwork) and via Twitter (https://twitter.com/CollegeAutism).
The College Autism Network team will also be making presentations across the country in the coming year, including stops at the annual meetings of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) in November and NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, in March 2017.