STEM and Neurodiversity: A Capacity Building Institute for Faculty at Community and Technical Colleges (2022)

An interactive event called Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and Neurodiversity: A Capacity Building Institute for Faculty at Community and Technical Colleges was conducted in two half-day online meetings April 20th and 22nd, 2022.

The event was a collaborative effort between a project called Neuroscience for Neurodiverse Learners (NNL) at the University of Washington’s (UW’s) Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology (DO-IT) Center and the West Coast Hub of the Auburn University-based Alliance of Students with Disabilities for Inclusion, Networking, and Transition Opportunities in STEM (TAPDINTO-STEM).

Training sessions included presentations on pedagogical and classroom management strategies for engaging neurodiverse students in on-site and online settings. Participants also engaged in two interactive panel sessions. During the first panel, neurodiverse students shared their experiences in the classroom and fielded questions about how educators might best meet the needs of neurodiverse learners. During the second panel, disability services professionals and faculty from community and technical colleges shared their experiences working with neurodiverse students and offered examples of effective and reasonable classroom accommodations. In numerous breakout discussions, participants interacted with each other and further built upon the topics covered.

About Us

About DO-IT and Neuroscience for Neurodiverse Learners (NNL)

The UW DO-IT Center is dedicated to empowering people with disabilities through technology and education. For faculty, service providers, and employers, DO-IT promotes awareness, accessibility, and inclusion—in both the classroom and the workplace—to maximize the potential of individuals with disabilities and make communities more diverse, inclusive, and vibrant.

DO-IT’s Neuroscience for Neurodiverse Learners (NNL) project, a collaboration with the UW Center for Neurotechnology, is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. NNL delivers hands-on experiences in neuroscience disciplines, networking opportunities, and resources to high school and early postsecondary students identified as “neurodiverse” learners—those with academic challenges related to conditions such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyscalculia, autism spectrum disorder, and Tourette syndrome—and disseminates findings to teachers of courses that are related to neuroscience and, more broadly, STEM fields. The goal of NNL is to enhance student interest in and skills to successfully pursue STEM, as well as empower educators to serve these students more effectively.

About the Center for Neurotechnology (CNT)

The UW’s CNT is an Engineering Research Center (ERC) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). CNT members are engineering new ways to help individuals heal and recover from injury as well as restore lost, injured, or otherwise missing connections in the brain, spinal cord and other areas of the nervous system. The CNT offers a wide range of classes and programs for pre-college, undergraduate and graduate students. CNT students and program participants learn in a collaborative, interdisciplinary environment that challenges them, introduces them to new people and ideas, and prepares them with the knowledge, skills and connections they will need to be leaders in STEM fields.

The CNT is committed to the inclusion of disability perspectives in the design of devices intended to benefit people with disabilities, as well as promoting diversity internally and in ERCs nationwide. The CNT partners with the DO-IT Center to broaden participation in STEM by individuals and groups that are traditionally underrepresented in these fields.


The NSF INCLUDES Alliance of Students with Disabilities for Inclusion, Networking, and Transition Opportunities in STEM, also known as the NSF INCLUDES TAPDINTO-STEM Alliance, is a nationwide project employing a collective impact approach with dozens of partnering organizations to increase the number of students with disabilities completing associate, baccalaureate, and graduate STEM degrees. Auburn University is leading the Alliance’s primary partnerships with five institutions of higher education that direct regional hubs: Auburn University, Northern Arizona University, the Ohio State University, the University of Hawaii-Manoa, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the UW. The DO-IT Center team coordinates the West Coast Hub of the Alliance.



Wednesday, April 20, 2022

9:00 - 9:10 AM
Welcome and Introductions
Sheryl Burgstahler, Rajesh Rao, Scott Bellman, and Eric Trekell, University of Washington

9:10 - 10:00 AM
Pedagogical Approaches for Neurodivergent Learners in STEM
Sara Sanders Gardner and Marisa Hackett, Bellevue College

10:00 - 10:15 AM   
Breakout Room Discussions

10:20 - 11:05 AM
Real Stories from Neurodiverse Students on How STEM Faculty Can Support Success
Ronda Jensen, Northern Arizona University

11:05 - 11:20 AM
Breakout Room Discussions

11:25 AM - 12:10 PM
Student Panel

12:10 - 12:30 PM
Large group Discussion and Close


Friday, April 22, 2022

9:00 - 9:10 AM
Welcome and Introductions
Sheryl Burgstahler, Rajesh Rao, Scott Bellman, and Eric Trekell, University of Washington

9:10 - 10:40 AM
Effective Communication Strategies and Classroom Management for Neurodiverse Learners
Kathryn Holley, The Autism Center, University of Washington

10:50 - 11:05 AM
Breakout room discussions

11:05 - 11:45 AM
Panel: Conversation with Disability Services
Hope Stout, Pierce College; Bryan Fauth, Cascadia College; and Craig Kerr, Edmonds College

11:50 - 12:15 PM
Best Practices from an Online STEM Summer Camp Serving Neurodiverse Students
Tami Tidwell, Eric Chudler, and Scott Bellman, University of Washington

12:15 - 12:30 PM      
Large Group Discussion and Close

Presentation Summaries

Pedagogical Approaches for Neurodivergent Learners in STEM

Youtube Link: Pedagogical Approaches for Neurodivergent Learners in STEM

Sara Sanders Gardner and Marisa Hackett, Bellevue College


People like to use a variety of language when referring to their own disability, including identity first or person first. People should always ask for specific preferences when talking to someone with a disability. Euphemisms–such as challenges, differently-abled, or special needs–should be avoided.

What is Neurodiversity?

This term was created by the autism community and is defined as the vast neuro-cognitive variability within Earth’s human population. The term was coined by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the late 90’s, and recognizes the fact that every human has a unique nervous system with a unique combination of ability and needs. The term neurodivergent refers to an individual who has a brain that functions in ways that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards.

Models of Disability

The moral model often refers to how the “problem” of disability comes from the individual, the family, or your ancestors–the idea that someone in your family has done something wrong in your family to cause your disability. The medical model looks at how the “problem” of disability is within the individual, which could be fixed with a cure or reduced by medicine or access to the medical system–suggesting there is a “right” way to live and be. The social model of disability reframes our thinking about disability from “fixing” a disabled person to focusing on changing society–the “problem” lies with society being inaccessible. Learn more on this topic in the video My Body Doesn't Oppress Me, Society Does.

Disability Justice

Patty Berne and other disability advocates have created 10 Principles of Disability Justice.

The ten principles of disability justice are Intersectionality, Leadership of Those Most Impacted, Anti-Capitalist Politic, Commitment to Cross Movement Organizing, Recognizing Wholeness, Sustainability, Commitment to Cross-Disability Solidarity, Interdependence, Collective Access, and Collective Liberation.

Societal markers and lived realities determine access to resources; people who are perceived to belong to privileged groups are rewarded for their group memberships while others are disenfranchised and subject to regulation and violence. Intersectionality includes age, disability, religion, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, indigenous backgrounds, national origin, gender, and more. Learn more about intersectionality from Finn Gardiner in the video Intersecting Selfhood Trans: Identity, Autism and Mental Health Disability.

Pedagogical Approaches

Edward T. Hall modeled culture as an iceberg, where we think about the aspects on the top, such as language and music, but notes there are aspects of culture that more deeply influence our behaviors and relationships, often below the “surface” of our awareness (the larger part of the iceberg that cannot be seen). Such aspects include facial expressions, eye contact, tones of voice, concepts of self, attitudes toward family, approaches to marriage, notions of friendship, and many more.

Cultural rules are flexible and many people can learn when and where to apply these different cultural expectations–this can be harder for neurodivergent people. For cultural expectations, it is great to follow these tips: try to give a generous and respectful interpretation to others’ way of being, own your boundaries while respecting others’ boundaries, and teach self-advocacy. If someone isn’t understanding what you are saying, try to express your ideas in different ways and let them ask clarifying questions.

Universal Design in Education

Universal design for education offers multiple ways to engage students, present information, and allow for expression and assessment. Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) is a model that offers students the purpose, task, and criteria in an assignment or activity with a rubric, and allows the teacher and student to have a common understanding of the tasks at hand. When educators provide structure, it allows students to understand what is going to happen and when, and they understand why each assignment is important. However, it’s also important to offer flexibility, since there will often be situations where students may need more guidance, time, or exceptions.

Other Core Practices and Tools

Always use students’ preferred names and pronouns and meet with students one-on-one to check in with them throughout the school quarter, semester, or year. Monitor progress and intervene as needed.

Use plain language in wording, structure, and design so that readers can readily find what they need, understand it, and use it. Use your college’s learning management system to create modules and organize materials into weekly work. Open up your course early to allow students to work and plan ahead.

Also make sure you are practicing self-care and finding community-care: taking care of yourself as a human beyond just an educator. Watch out for burnout and demoralization and take breaks.

Real Stories from Neurodiverse Students on How STEM Faculty Can Support Success

Youtube Link: Real Stories from Neurodiverse Students on How STEM Faculty Can Support Success

Ronda Jensen, Northern Arizona University

Discover Your Neurodiverse Advantage in STEM (DYNA STEM), funded by the National Science Foundation, aims to bring the important aspects of neurodiversity to the forefront of STEM, such as creativity, critical thinking, and differences in world view.

DYNA STEM worked with Auburn University, University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Hawaii, Ohio State University, and other partners to gather qualitative data. Project staff talked to students—as well as faculty, professionals, educators, disability support specialists, and others—about neurodiversity, STEM education, and perceptions; DYNA STEM staff focused on student perceptions of these topics and how this aided in conceptualizing what inclusive STEM teaching and learning means.

Neurodiverse students reported they want

  • specific and clear instructions (more is better than less);
  • flexibility for self-guided learning;
  • balance of peer learning, hands-on, and direct instruction–through a combination of lectures, projects, and other models of teaching and learning;
  • a choice of options and activities or abilities to skip unnecessary steps if you’ve mastered a skill;
  • visuals and graphics;
  • opportunities to be creative;
  • clear and logical applications to real-world STEM work;
  • sensory stimuli focused on specific tasks;
  • physical space options for standing, sitting, or other positions; and
  • clear social expectations.

“Next Level” Inclusive STEM Learning focuses on universal design for learning, a trauma-informed setting, and adult learning principles. Universal design for learning features multiple methods of representation (information shared in a variety of ways), action and expression (options for demonstration learning), and engagement (options for learning new skills). A trauma-informed setting recognizes that there are triggers of trauma and creates a space that allows for students to feel comfortable learning. It focuses on safety (risk-taking as an acceptable form of STEM learning), trustworthiness (dependable follow-through), choice (options for engagement), collaboration (learning from each other), and empowerment (strengths-based approach and opportunities for leadership).

Effective Communication Strategies and Classroom Management for Neurodiverse Learners

Youtube Link: Effective Communication Strategies and Classroom Management for Neurodiverse Learners

Kathryn Holley, The Autism Center, University of Washington

This presentation covers general supportive strategies, setting expectations, communication strategies, and managing disruptions, which are concepts that can support all learners.

There are a large number of neurodivergent identities. One of the first ways we support our students is in the ways we think and talk about them. Using labels such as high- or low-functioning and thinking of autism as a binary spectrum is problematic; instead, we now acknowledge where students just need additional support. This can lead to a lot of competing needs in the classroom, which can sometimes require compromise or more spaces for people to have their preferred learning environment.

For example, reading a syllabus may seem very easy for some people, but can feel very overwhelming for others. Group projects can feel very overwhelming for many, but some people genuinely thrive during group work. The best strategies for setting expectations are based on the following:

  • Utilize a strengths-based model, looking at individual weaknesses and strengths and how we can build on the latter.
  • Engage in discussion to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Understand the difference between “can’t do” and “won’t do”—there can often be a misconception that someone is saying they won’t do something when instead they can’t do it because the emotional or cognitive cost far outweighs the benefit.
  • Adopt “Compassionate Humility.” Accept that despite what you might know, you will never fully know what is going on for the other person.

Communication is never as straightforward as it seems and looks different depending on the observer. Behaviors are generally the result of deeper reasoning, which can be symptoms of neurodivergent traits. Helpful communication strategies include the following:

  • Use a variety of means to give and accept information.
  • Cover expectations even for things that often go unsaid. Think about the “where” and “why.”
  • Enact rubrics that can be explained to students. Discuss expectations around participation, assignments, tests, and other grade-related activities.
  • “Chunk” information by teaching and delivering related information at the same time.
  • Allow for frequent breaks.
  • Make connections explicit: Repeat the same point or emphasize something by stating “this is important,” or saying “bolded items will usually show up on tests.”
  • Provide sample products or give visual options to let students know what is expected of them.

Every environment comes with a lot of sensory experiences, which can be distracting or cause individuals to act differently than expected. Helpful methods for managing disruptions before they start include the following:

  • Establish class norms: Set expectations around movement, talking, and other actions, and what is allowed in the classroom.
  • Be direct: Give feedback as needed.
  • Clearly communicate what you will do in the moment of a disruption: At the beginning of a quarter or year, always say what will happen in this situation so everyone is on the same page. Repeat as needed and follow through.
  • Clearly communicate what you expect all students to do in the moment of a disruption: At the beginning of a quarter or year, say what you want peers to do so everyone is on the same page.

Other individual strategies may also be needed:

  • Ask the student what they want you to do or not do.
  • Share the burden of creating solutions.
  • Be honest and realistic.
  • Consider what is in your control.
  • Assume good intentions.

Options for in the moment disruption solutions:

  • Visual support: showing them an alternative rather than just talking about it.
  • Model calmness: It can be hard to make rational decisions when agitated; offer calm decisions and choices Acknowledge and redirect–saying “I see that you are very upset. Take three minutes in the hall and I will meet you out there.”
  • Survive with dignity: Talking through what is happening can help everyone understand and normalize what is happening.

Best Practices from an Online STEM Summer Camp Serving Neurodiverse Students

Youtube Link: Best Practices from an Online STEM Summer Camp Serving Neurodiverse Students

Tami Tidwell, Eric Chudler, and Scott Bellman, University of Washington

Neuroscience for Neurodiverse Learners is an NSF-funded ITEST project that provides hands-on experiences and networking opportunities to motivate students from neurodiverse backgrounds to pursue academic pursuits in STEM. Our program includes a STEM summer camp, as well as networking and learning opportunities throughout the year.

During our program, we communicate a lot before the sessions to let each student know what is expected of them. We also let them know whether assignments will be coming, and allow time for students to introduce themselves and opportunities to use audio or chat. We provide the order students will be presenting so they have time to prepare, and if we are going around asking questions, students can elect to skip and come back later. We also make sure that presentations are very visually focused and include a lot of interaction through chat, questions, and polls, which allows students to engage in multiple ways

We use a software called Padlet, where students can upload their work. We included a project where students had to make neurons from household materials and a project where students shared a musical instrument they made at home. We also invite students to take ownership of their learning by asking “what do you want to learn about the human brain?”

Behind the scenes, staff members set up duties and responsibilities for conducting online classes. Staff utilize a real-time communication tool (Slack) to allow for behind-the-scenes conversations, and we share our agendas, prompts, and discussions over a learning management system (Canvas) with all participants. For many of the students, this is their first time experiencing college-level tools. We talk to a lot of the students over chat, Zoom, and the phone one-on-one, which can include helping solve problems, making sure someone is somewhere on time, technical support, or even just helping someone talk through their anxiety.

We also offer near-peer support, which allows participants to see more people like them who have succeeded in these programs and in college. Sometimes it can be easier to talk to another student compared to talking to a professional.

Panel Presentation Summaries

Panel of Students with Disabilities

A panel of postsecondary students with disabilities shared their experiences and answered questions about access and inclusion. The panel included a neuroscience master’s degree student at a university in New York, a Ph.D. student studying experimental psychology at a university in California, and two public health undergraduate students at a college in Washington. The panelists shared information about their disabilities, which included autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD, a heart condition, learning disabilities, and other challenges related to brain injuries. The following headings were questions asked to the students, with bulleted responses listed below.

What is something you want to share about your experiences with disability?

  • I experienced difficulty receiving accommodations and effective support in high school.
  • There are different supports while transitioning from high school to community college to a university, and there is a need to advocate for effective support at all levels.
  • The difficulty of balancing program requirements with self-care (e.g., being sensitive to a computer monitor due to a brain injury, while navigating a program that requires a lot of monitor time).
  • The positive impact of working with a teaching assistant who also identified as neurodiverse.
  • There is a need to increase awareness and knowledge among faculty and programs about disability services and student accommodations.
  • It’s a challenge to manage one’s time and symptoms in difficult situations, such as a professor being very hesitant to adjust class structure even though it is necessary.
  • It can be difficult to understand the “unwritten” rules of academia for anyone, but can be especially hard for neurodivergent students.
  • There are many college experiences that get overlooked by disability services, such as student clubs, experiences in theaters, etc.
  • One faculty member provided excellent mentorship, and it made all the difference.

What are you looking for from the ideal accommodations conversation with faculty?

  • Being understood and feeling heard by an instructor who took the time to respond to the accommodations request in a thoughtful manner. Specifically, the instructor listed out various course activities and described how the accommodations would apply differently depending on the activity.
  • It’s helpful for faculty to understand that students don’t always know exactly what they need. Often times, students are learning about effective accommodations as they go through school and take on new challenges.
  • It would be desirable for faculty to take an interest in the disabled students on campus. Learn about what types of disabilities are represented on campus and how frequently. Learn about neurodiversity. Be curious about different kinds of accommodations and why they exist. The burden shouldn’t always be on the disabled student to educate non-disabled individuals.
  • Faculty should not make assumptions about disabilities.
  • It would be nice if more faculty understood that invisible disabilities and neurodivergence is stigmatized on campus. That can make it harder to be proud of who you are, and can make it harder to find allies with those conditions because students often don’t feel safe talking about it.
  • Often there is a level of empathy and acceptance on campus, but when the conversation includes a medical condition, it can feel like the empathy and acceptance are set aside.

Conversation with Disability Services

Hope Stout, Director of Access and Disability Services, Pierce College
Bryan Fauth, Accessibility and Support Services, Cascadia College
Craig Kerr, Director of Services for Students with Disabilities, Edmonds College

Panel Introductions

Hope Stout, Pierce College District, Ft. Steliacoom, WA.
Bryan Fauth, Cascadia College, Bothell, WA.
Craig Kerr, Edmonds College, Lynnwood, WA.

Question 1: Faculty can be very accommodating; what is the balance you see between your office, the student, the faculty and the law? Video clip of panel responses.

Question 2: Do you have suggestions for how we can best support students who come to us self-disclosing various diagnoses that they might have, but they don’t have official documentation in place. And so getting them officially recognized accommodations or supports is difficult. So is there an alternative avenue for students to get those things recognized if finances or access is a barrier for them in getting whatever required documentation is necessary? Video clip of panel responses.

Question 3: I teach Mathematics and I’ve actually been talking with some people that teach Mathematics, that teach Physics, teach Geology, teach Chemistry, about how we aren’t really positive how best to teach for certain topics, like “how do you describe a graph - how do you teach a student a graph who can’t see the graph?” Or “how do you teach a student who has dyscalculia?” Or “how do you take a student on a field trip who has a physician disability, who can’t walk through the field trip?” So we’re actually proposing to do a grant to bring together some people to create a community of practice to do this, and we’re just kind of curious if there are people out there that would be willing and able to help us, facilitate and train us, because I don’t know anything myself. And is this also something that the Disability Resource officers at your school can do, too? Video clip of panel responses.

Question 4: I’m curious to hear your perspective on how an interested faculty member could arrange to meet with students before the term begins. I know that would help me to be a much better instructor if I had some specific tips, hints that I could incorporate. Video clip of panel responses.

Question 5: Are we dependent on requests for accommodation in designing our course? What about students who are not diagnosed? And doesn’t “neurodiversity” apply to every person? Also how do we incorporate, communicate neurodiversity goals in our learning objectives? Video clip of panel responses.

Discussion Summaries

What would you like to start doing based on the things we’ve talked about today?

  • Use bullet points more consistently instead of text, especially in emails to students! I use them in the Canvas course. For example, I have a weekly overview page with a bullet point list of all activities for the week. It might be a helpful strategy in email communication as well.
  • Feedback is especially helpful for new assignments to you, ones you haven’t used before to improve them.
  • Say the most important thing first (e.g. due date/deadline) and then give them the information around it.
  • Work further on the idea of listening carefully.
  • Do a perception check more frequently and provide additional communication to try to figure out specifically what is being communicated.
  • Explore using the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) template; adjust how I describe assignments.
  • Further explore the cultural nuances and context as they relate to the classes that I teach.
  • Explore the further use of “simple instructions”, maybe with more white space, related clip art or something.
  • Use the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) template for more assignments and pay more attention to how disabled individuals describe themselves.

What would you like to stop doing?

  • Delivering lectures without captions.
  • Using euphemisms.

What are you already doing that’s working well for your students?

  • I provide three math lessons in a week, and each lesson has a file for note-taking, a link to the Canvas page with the lesson, a link to the assignment page, and a link to textbook. This makes it easier for students to find things.
  • Explain to students how you, as the instructor, have organized the modules and how you would approach the learning for the week. Explain when to do reading, how to take notes, and various ways to approach assignments. Students can then modify that strategy to fit their own needs or style.
  • Survey students halfway through the term, asking “How can I help?” and “Is there a change I could make that might be helpful for you now? For future classes?” This lets students know you are open to feedback.
  • Ask people to identify their terminology, depending on the individual.
  • I create and share documents in an accessible format.
  • Caption videos. We have worked out how to offer captions for everyone.
  • Use design tools and accessibility checkers in Canvas.
  • In live settings, let people know in advance what will be asked and the order they will be asked to respond.
  • Have an organized Canvas site with links, be flexible with deadlines, allow students to choose their assignments, and clean up (edit) closed captioning text in lecture-capture files.

Did you have any “ah-ha” moments that will inform your teaching going forward?

  • “When my accessibility needs are met, I am not functionally disabled.”
  • “When we talk about age, people make a lot of assumptions, including about those who are of an older age or a non-traditional age. The idea of assumption-making.”
  • “When my access needs are met, I am functionally not disabled” shows how much about a culture is unspoken and has variable rules.
  • I want to further explore terminology that is considered acceptable.
  • Thinking about the environment: loudness, sounds, side conversations and how that can be disruptive.

What are examples from your teaching that you routinely use to support neurodiverse students?

  • We set our own deadlines and create our own tasks.
  • Being transparent and interjecting my story.
  • Everyone has a grace period after the due date assigned by the instructor.
  • Everybody gets lecture notes, this makes it more accessible for everyone.
  • Allow an index card, handwritten, as a memory aid during the exam.
  • I host a group discussion on “advice for future students,” and I share the results with new students.
  • When it comes to teaching, if you learn something from a student presentation, write a letter about the impact of it and forward it to that person. They can have it included in their portfolio.
  • Turning on Live Transcripts on Zoom.
  • Have a person who does live captioning (professionally).

In what ways do you plan to enhance your STEM course(s) in order to promote higher levels of engagement and learning among neurodiverse students?

  • Taking best practices from trauma-aware and mental health-aware teaching principles and applying them to neurodiverse students.
  • As a math instructor, I would like to dig deeper into the topic of different ways to demonstrate knowledge.
  • I would like to explore further the idea of encouraging students to be flexible, adjust for different learning and working styles, and demonstrate learning in different ways in a science lab.
  • For group work, thinking about expectation setting and context for students. I would like to improve ways to do community building in the class and in group work.
  • I plan to explore creating cohorts for working together, and utilize the cohorts and changing of cohorts as areas for student growth in social skills.
  • Working on establishing a safe space before working on growth edges or pushing students. I’d like to create environments where students feel safe enough to take on some discomfort.
  • Continue to work on having the presence of mind to intervene in the moment in a manner that is accepting and honoring the task at hand.
  • Adding something light in the middle of a stressful situation such as an exam.

What are examples of strengths and unique perspectives that neurodiverse students bring to the STEM college classroom and the STEM discipline?

  • In STEM we need new solutions. Different thought processes and perspectives bring in new thought processes which can lead to new ways to identify solutions.
  • Sometimes when students have a certain goal, they’re more dedicated to their studies. If they face a challenge, their goal can push them to find ways to overcome that challenge for themselves and others.
  • STEM has historically been dominated by cis white males, while studies show that diversity makes for finding better answers.
  • Help students understand that they have the power and ability to figure out what works for them. Students learn they don’t have to come with all the answers; the more diverse perspectives the richer the exploration of learning and processes.

Are there specific resources or opportunities academic units can provide to STEM faculty to improve the success of neurodiverse students?

  • Cutting-edge and reliable technology resources for increasing accessibility, such as in communication courses.
  • Resources for designing learner objectives and assessments to be more inclusive of multiple modalities of demonstrating learning.

What are Different Sensory Inputs in Educational Settings?

  • Presence of other students in the classroom.
  • Lighting and temperature of the environment.
  • Ambient noise (from electronics, other students, other background sounds).
  • Mask-wearing requirements.
  • Lack of non-verbal cues when the speaker is wearing a mask.
  • Side conversations, tapping, gum-chewing and other behaviors.
  • Smells (e.g. white board marker fumes).
  • Noise of writing on a blackboard or white board.
  • Zoom rooms: Set expectations (e.g. attending class while driving, eating, etc.)
    • Students or faculty not turning on cameras.
    • Lack of muting leading to background noises.
    • Distractions from virtual backgrounds.

What Strategies are There to Create and Incorporate Developmentally Appropriate Visual Supports in the Educational Setting

  • We need to avoid “walls of text” and ensure that the information is balanced. If it’s important for students to remember, provide handouts.
  • Allow for Q&A around the visuals.
  • There is a lot of visualization in mathematics. You want to make sure the graph speaks to the reader, so good labels are needed, and conveying a good amount but not too much information. Moreover, visualization in STEM is so critical. In the lab, so much of the work is hands-on. There are a lot of drawings so visualizing what they are about to do is important. (e.g. posters, thinking maps, etc.)
  • One person has helped students create thinking maps as they study and learn, and then reflect on their thinking map (a page with drawings, concepts, connecting lines, boxes, key words) throughout the day. This encourages students to make a new one each day.


  • Abeyta, Felicity - University of Washington
  • Baum, Dr. Jessica - Monterey Peninsula College
  • Beckmann, Cindy - Northern Arizona University
  • Beebe, Jacqueline - Whatcom Community College
  • Bellman, Scott - University of Washington
  • Bishop, Jan - Oregon Coast Community College
  • Brady, Elizabeth - Mira Costa College
  • Brown, Dr. Diane - Everett Community College
  • Brown, Kayla - University of Washington
  • Burgstahler, Dr. Sheryl - University of Washington
  • Burroughs, Ellen - Tacoma Community College
  • Chudler, Dr. Eric - University of Washington
  • Crawford, Lyla    - University of Washington
  • D'Errico, Dr. Megan - Sierra College
  • Deffit, Dr. Sarah - Tacoma Community College
  • Emery, Nancy    - Bellevue College
  • Engebretson, Hilary - Whatcom Community College
  • Fauth, Bryan - Cascadia College
  • Fleming, Jennifer - Oregon Coast Community College
  • Fryman, Brandon - Shoreline Community College
  • Goff, Martha - Sacramento City College
  • Gomez, Joanna - Mira Costa College
  • Hackett, Marisa - Bellevue College
  • Hardt, Peggy - Bellevue College
  • Hess, Megan - Pierce College
  • Hillyard, Dr. Cinnamon - University of Washington
  • Holland, Annie - Mira Costa College
  • Holley, Kathryn - University of Washington Autism Center
  • Holtzheimer, Crystal - Whatcom Community College
  • Jackson, Dr. Natalya - Pierce College
  • Jenson, Dr. Ronda - Northern Arizona University
  • Kerr, Craig - Edmonds College
  • Kozak, Kathryn - Coconino Community College
  • Kraft, Dr. Kaatje - Whatcom Community College
  • Kuzu, Timur - Highline College
  • Kwoka, Mark - Sierra College
  • Lebitz, Mina - Bellingham Technical College
  • Lui, Kris - Independent Consultant
  • Mano, Andrea    - University of Washington
  • Matestic, Patti - University of Washington Autism Center
  • Metzger, Dr. Jade - Northern Arizona University
  • Northrop, Dr. Sheila - Tacoma Community College
  • Ozanich, Alex - Bellevue College
  • Parada, Jennifer - Bellevue College
  • Parker, Matt - Tacoma Community College
  • Peaucelle, Anne-Laure - Oregon Coast Community College
  • Perry, Dr. Eddie - Pierce College
  • Prelip, Dr. Anglea - Folsom Lake College
  • Ray, Katie - Tacoma Community College
  • Reeves, Kimberly - Whatcom Community College
  • Robertson, Sarah - Olympic College
  • Robertson, Scott - Olympic College
  • Sanders Gardner, Sara - Bellevue College
  • Schmid, Melody - Butte College
  • Stout, Hope - Pierce College
  • Thomas, Timothy - Gavilan College
  • Tidwell, Tami - University of Washington
  • Traiger, Jeff - University of Missouri-KC
  • Trekell, Eric - University of Washington
  • Watkins, Dr. Laura - AMATYC/Glendale Community College
  • Weaver, Amie    - Sierra College
  • Wheeler, Shannon - University of Missouri-KC
  • Woolner, Elizabeth - University of Washington
  • Zamora, Andi - Bellingham Technical College



STEM and Neurodiversity: A Capacity Building Institute for Faculty at Community and Technical Colleges was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF Award HRD-2017017, HRD-2017054). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the CBI presenters, attendees, and publication authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the University of Washington.

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