Centre for eLearning Innovations and
Partnerships in Science and Engineering (eLIPSE)

Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a lifelong pervasive developmental disorder that lies on the autistic spectrum. In adults, AS is difficult to diagnose but may be characterised by:

  • average or above-average intelligence;
  • problems with understanding another person’s
    point of view;
  • difficulties engaging in social routines such as conversations and ‘small talk’;
  • problems with controlling feelings such as anger, depression and anxiety;
  • a preference for routines and schedules which can result in stress or anxiety if a routine is disrupted;
    and
  • restricted and/or repetitive fields of interest
    (Attwood, 2013).
     

The learning profiles of school-aged AS students show that many experience problems with communication, social interaction, organisation, problem-solving and adapting to change or failure.  These issues are core skills of engineers who must be project managers, team players, communicators, problem solvers, and able to deal with ambiguity and change.

Approximately one in 100-200 of the general population has diagnosable autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) (ABS, 2012; Brugha, 2009) and this rate climbs significantly in engineering and science students and climbs again when undiagnosed cases are taken into account.  Recent research in the USA shows that tertiary students with AS are over-represented in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) (Wei, Yu, Shattuck, McCracken and Blackorby, 2013), but little Australian research exists about the number of students entering STEM programs at tertiary level, or about transitioning and teaching AS students (Myers, Ladner & Koger, 2011).

In Australia, at both federal and state level, governments fund school-based programs for students with ASD and professional development for teachers.  No programs are offered for tertiary institutions, although Autism Queensland's ‘New Steps’ program provides scaffolding for young people with ASD to assist the transition between secondary school and either jobs or further study (Autism Queensland, 2014).  Of those with ASD, fewer than 20% have post-secondary qualifications, which is much lower than the population rate and the rate for ‘disabled’ adults (ABS, 2014).

Diagnosed AS students at UQ are supported by disability plans to help them through their degree program, but many students who suffer from ‘mild’ AS, are undiagnosed or are diagnosed but chose not to establish a disability plan (Woodbury-Smith et al., 2005).  These latter groups often struggle to complete courses requiring them to work in teams, manage projects, and solve problems.

Project aims

The project sought to create a framework for identification and supportive management of AS students and thereby help them to achieve better educational outcomes.  Specifically, the project:

  1. raised awareness among teaching staff of the prevalence of AS among students and how this disorder may impact learning and behaviour;
  2. developed and implemented a one-off workshop for teaching and other relevant staff (delivered in conjuctionh with qualified staff from Autism Queensland ) which:
    a) assisted staff to identify AS students; and
    b) provided practical strategies which staff could adapt/implement to maximise curriculum access, manage challenging issues, and develop a supportive learning environment for AS learners;
  3. created an online training system for new staff, Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and tutors (and other staff faced with an AS student) based on the workshop and in conjunction with qualified staff; and
  4. provided student resources through a link to work that is being undertaken within HABS Faculty (Professor Sylvia Rodger is developing modules for young adults with ASD in higher education/social contexts as part of CRC funded research).
Project team/Contacts
Title First Name Last Name Affiliation Role
in ​the project
Contact
A/Professor Lydia Kavanagh Faculty of EAIT/
School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering
Lead CI l.kavanagh@uq.edu.au
​+61 7 3365 4264
A/Professor Liza O'Moore Faculty of EAIT/School of Civil Engineering

Lead CI

l.omoore@uq.edu.au
+61 7 3365 3899

 

A/Professor Kate Sofronoff

School of Psychology
Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences

Lead CI k.sofronoff@psy.uq.edu.au
+61 7 336 56411
Project Status

The project is complete and eLIPSE is now collaborating with the coordinators of a range of courses in Engineering, Public Health and Science to improve tracking and reporting capabilities.

Resources

The project webste can be accessed from: http://asd.uqcloud.net/.  Further resources, developed specifically to meet the needs of tertiary educators, professionals and administrative staff, are available on the website for the Austism CRC.

Technologies Used

Drupal, HTML

Acknowledgements

The project was supported by UQ Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) strategic funding.

References
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2014). Autism in Australia 2012. Retrieved September 19, 2014, fro.
  • Autism Queensland. (nd). New Steps. Retreived September 18, 2014 from http://www.autismqld.com.au/page/588/New-Steps-Post-School-Transition-Programs.
  • Attwood, T. (2013). What is Asperger Syndrome. Retrieved September 18, 2014, fromhttp://www.tonyattwood.com.au/index.php/about-aspergers.
  • Brugha, T., McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Smith, J., Scott, F.J., Purdon, S., et al. (2009). Autism Spectrum Disorders in adults throughout England Report from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007. University of Cambridge: Social Care Statistics National Centre for Social Research, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester, and Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge.
  • Carrington, S., Papinczak, T. & Templeton, E. (2003). Adolescents with Aspergers’ Disorder and perceptions of friendship. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disorders, 18(4): 211-218.
  • Myers, J., Ladner, J., & Koger, S. (2011). More than a passing grade: Fostering positive psychological outcomes for mainstreamed students with autism. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 23(6): 515-526.
  • Wei, X., Yu, J., Shattuck, P., McCracken, M. & Blackorby, J. (2013). Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) participation among college students with an autistic spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43: 1539 – 1546.
  • Woodbury-Smith, M., Robinson, J., Wheelwright, S. & Baron-Cohen, S. (2005). Screening adults for Asperger Syndrome Using the AQ: A preliminary study of its diagnostic validity in clinical practice. Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, 35(3): 331-335.