In the last two decades, pre-college engineering education has been on a sharp rise. However, limited research, if at all, considered aspects of engineering thinking of children with disabilities. Therefore, in line with the call for diversifying engineering education, considering inclusion of children with disabilities is necessary.
Among different disabilities, the number of children with autism is rapidly growing. In addition, studies have shown that individuals with autism have the potential to perform well in activities that require systematizing abilities like engineering. Given the importance of participating in engineering learning opportunities from childhood and its impact on future engineering performance, engaging children with autism in appropriate engineering experiences is necessary. Therefore, we need to gain a deep understanding of how they engage in engineering learning activities.
This study is a part of a bigger project in which we aim to characterize engineering thinking of children with autism. In this study, we are closely looking at the first and very important engineering practices; problem scoping. The main purpose of this study is to investigate how 8-10 years old children with autism engage in problem scoping. We focused on three main components of problem scoping in engineering design (1) Problem Framing, (2) Information Gathering, and (3) Reflection.
For this study, we have conducted a qualitative single case study analysis. We carefully chosen one case of child with autism. The child is make and 9 years old and participated in this study with his parent. They were asked to solve an engineering problem of building a roller coaster for a local amusement park in 60 minutes. Their interaction was videotaped and pictures of their designs were captured. We have analyzed the video data video analysis approach based on the codebook we developed by reviewing literature on problem scoping. The instances that we have seen in mom-child interactions and conversation provided evidence that the child with autism was capable of engaging in all three actions of problem scoping. The behaviors we have observed were mostly associated to Problem Framing and Information Gathering. However, we have seen some evidence of Reflection. We believe, that the findings of this study lays foundation for future studies on children with autism and engineering design, and how to effectively engage in them in these activities.
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