Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder at STEM Faculties

Posted by Iwona Maciejowska, on March 19, 2022, 2:54 p.m.

Iwona Maciejowska, Anna Majcher-Fitas, Magdalena Niedbał

Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland

Challenge and goal

The academic teachers do not know how to react in cases of student behaviour that differs from their experience, e.g., the student paces around the classroom, the student gets irritated with every change in the class schedule. Lecturers have problems (doubts) with deciding whether a given behaviour is arrogant or disrespectful of social norms or if it is a sign of dysfunction, e.g. inability to read the human faces and body language, and understand social norms.
Students with ASD may have perfectionist tendencies [1] and therefore might have difficulties with realizing a task/writing a report/finishing an exam in time. This way, even if they excel at a topic, their grades might not reflect their knowledge. What is more, if they fail a task once, it might be more likely that such students drop out of the course/programme (the course outcome will not be perfect). First year is especially difficult for students with ASD because of many changes to their learning environment they need to manage/ suddenly deal with.

Topic of the user case

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Local context (specific)

Almost 40% of students with ASD (who registered in the Jagiellonian University Disability Support Service) study in the four STEM faculties out of 16 faculties at JU. Many of those students are high-functioning and study full time.

It can be assumed that academic staff with ASD that are a part of STEM faculties use teaching and learning methods that are familiar and comfortable for them, and thus close to the students with ASD. That does not mean that these methods are the most effective.

At the JU Faculty of Chemistry there are around 800 students at two large study programmes, while at the Faculty of Physics, Astronomy and Applied Computer Science there are over 900 students at one large program (computer science) and six smaller programmes (10 – 50 students/programme - much smaller groups). 

There is a functioning Disability Support Service (DSS) at the University, where students can find support. However, not all students with ASD register with the Service and thus the information about their needs does not reach the teachers. 

Group work is often necessary during chemistry and physics laboratory classes, which poses a serious challenge for students with ASD.

Local educational scope

Physics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Medical Chemistry, Astronomy, Biophysics, Material Science

Pre-knowledge / Background of the participating local teaching staff

At the Faculty of Physics, Astronomy and Applied Computer Science there are numerous lecturers and teaching assistants that have difficulties with social communication which may cause them to understand the ASD students better, however, it may also cause them to ignore guidelines from DSS because of their own difficulties with introducing change - also in their teaching patterns.

At other Faculties, the knowledge about ASD may be limited, except for teaching staff that have such people in their families or wider social environment.

During the “Introduction to university education” course for Ph.D. students and a similar one for teaching staff there is at least one module devoted to the differences between students, however, they do not focus much on ASD, which is just mentioned among others factors and disabilities.

Local CPD goals

  • Development of an ability to cope with students with different characteristics

Designing a microMOOC that will help fellow lecturers to improve the following skills:

  • to explain why knowledge about ASD is important for people, who work at university
  • to describe autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) - its historic background and characteristics
  • to identify the challenges faced by those studying a given course at the university
  • to propose the effective teaching strategies and support offered to students with ASD



Needs defined in STEM-CPD Roadmap

10 support students in socializing (specifically e.g. during a pandemic)
11 stimulate discussion
28 organize (online) collaborative learning
3 inspire a positive attitude in their class.
4 make students feel special, included, safe and secure.
5 following online courses / MOOC about teaching and learning.

CPD activities at the local university

  • Development of two face-to-face modules about ASD for doctoral students (as a part of “Introduction to university education” course) in cooperation between STEM faculties members and Disability Support Service educational adviser
  • Based on experiences collected during F2F course development of microMOOC
  • Promotion of microMOOC among STEM faculties members
  • Questionnaire with fellow academic teachers – recognition of additional needs

Teaching and learning materials

  • mMOOC “Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder at STEM Faculties”,
  •  [1] Ennis-Cole D.L. (2015) Strategies for Supporting Students with ASD. In: Technology for Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Educational Communications and Technology: Issues and Innovations. Springer, Cham.

Sustainable implementation

  • Repeating the course for doctoral student every year and a mMOOC - every 2-3 years during the Education Quality Week


Expected impact of the CPD User Case


Plans for eventual continuation of the CPD within the same topic


Competence teaching, Deep learning, Organize peer-feedback, collaborative learning (type P1-2a, P1-3c, P1-3d)

This CPD scenario describes a User case in which lecturers develop their competence in teaching in higher education and how to facilitate student’s deep learning and development of higher cognitive skills and organizing peer-feedback and collaborative learning and develop attitudes in supporting student development and enabling students’ well-being in a learning process and inclusivity.
In this CPD scenario the participants are using a very short open online course, a micro mooc (μmooc) and professionalize in a close connection to their own teaching practice (at their workplace) and meet in person on location with the training staff and with other participants.

Learning environment

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