Understanding STEM Outcomes for Autistic Middle Schoolers in an Interest-Based, Afterschool Program: A Qualitative Study

Kavitha Murthi, Yu Lun Chen, Wendy Martin, Ariana Riccio, Kristie Patten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Current research underscores that there are only a few evidence-based programs that teach STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as part of their curriculum, especially for autistic students. Even fewer programs focus on engineering and design learning. Hence, we developed an informal afterschool maker program to develop autistic and non-autistic students’ interests in engineering to understand their experiences learning STEM concepts and values while applying the engineering mindset to develop projects. This qualitative study aimed to explore and understand students’ experiences participating in STEM activities in the maker club. We interviewed twenty-six students (seventeen autistic and nine non-autistic), nine teachers, and thirteen parents representing diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds across three public middle schools in a large urban metropolitan city between 2018 and 2019. Our thematic analysis yielded four themes: (1) active participation in STEM; (2) curiosity about STEM topics, concepts, and practices, (3) capacity-building to engage in STEM learning; and 4) understanding of the importance of STEM education in daily life. The results of this study enabled us to understand that students were deeply engaged with the content and curriculum of our program, expanded their knowledge base about scientific concepts, used engineering-specific scientific terminologies, and engaged with the engineering design process to conceptualize, test, improvise, and problem-solve. Furthermore, this afterschool engineering education program created a safe, nurturing, and stimulating environment for students to build engineering readiness skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-620
Number of pages26
JournalResearch in Science Education
Issue number4
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Autism
  • Curiosity in STEM topics
  • Engineering
  • Maker clubs
  • STEM
  • Strength-based

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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