Virginia Tech®home

Capturing Engineering Design: Thinking of Children with Autism

Hoda Ehsan
PhD Candidate
Purdue University

Friday 11/30 10:10-11:40am
Goodwin 145

Conversations on equity, accessibility, broadening participation and diversity in engineering often center around gender, socio-economic status and race and ethnicity, leaving aside consideration of neurodiverse people. Among the neurodiverse population, the number of children with autism is rapidly growing. Over half a million children with autism will enter adulthood in the next decade. Therefore, it is critical to prepare them to achieve their full potential in the workforce. Given their unique systemizing abilities, individuals on the autism spectrum have the potential to engage well in the fields that require systemizing abilities such as engineering.  However, because of their challenges in social skills, they may face difficulties that influence their engineering engagement.  In order to help this population overcome their challenges and support them to succeed in engineering, effective interventions should be implemented from a young age. However, prior to designing any intervention, we need to learn about their strengths and weaknesses in engineering problem solving. Therefore, in my dissertation, I explore engineering experiences of children with autism aiming at characterizing their engineering thinking.

In my talk, I will share my preliminary findings as I am currently in the midst of a reciprocal process of collecting and analyzing data. I will share the conceptual framework that I developed using the three main components of my study: (1) child learning, (2) autism and (3) engineering design. Through this framework, I will highlight theories that support children with autism’s engineering strengths, and strategies that can be adopted during their engineering engagement. We will then watch a video-clip of a child with autism engaging in the task and interactively we will discuss evidence of his engineering thinking. I will finally summarize what I have learned regarding my participants’ engineering thinking. I will bring with me a couple of engineering toys that I have used when designing different engineering challenges. Depending on the time, we can explore and play with them! 

Hoda Ehsan is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue Univeristy. She received her B.S. in mechanical engineering in Iran and obtained her M.S. in Childhood Education from City College of New York. Hoda had also obtained a teaching certificate for elementary education from the state of New York. She is now a graduate research assistant for an NSF funded STEM+C project. Her research interests include investigating young children’s engagement in engineering design in informal settings and ways to promote engineering thinking in all including neurodiverse children. She is also interested and involved in designing engineering learning resources to be used in informal environments.