Spectrum Innovates Pathway: Preparing Autistic Students to Enter Higher Education and Careers in Advanced Technological Fields
Based on recent estimates, about 1 in 54 children born in the United States are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Speaks (autismspeaks.org) currently reports that as many as 90% of autistic individuals are unemployed or underemployed. To address the autistic community's employment needs and the forecasted shortage of technicians in the aeronautics industry over the next twenty years, nfpNEXUS, Inc. will partner with Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, Inc. to develop and implement the Spectrum Innovates Pathway project. Design of this Pathway is informed by the findings of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018) on best practices for learning, as well as recent research that has led to modified and new cognitive models for autism. The Spectrum Innovates Pathway will support autistic students who share a common passion for aeronautics. The primary goal of the Pathway is to prepare autistic students to succeed in higher education and to enter the workforce in advanced technician roles. This project will provide full immersion of autistic students in a STEM learning environment designed to support them as they acquire the knowledge and certifications needed for their entry into advanced technical careers.
The project will develop and implement a bridge year for autistic students who have completed their high school requirements. The project will leverage experiential learning to support students' acclimation to the collegiate and work environments and development of critical life and practical skills. A robust recruitment process for students will increase awareness of the availability of the advanced technician options for autistic individuals. Students will be included in a cohort for the duration of the program, which is expected to contribute to creating a supportive learning environment. Student projects will model real world challenges to reinforce existing knowledge and skills. Industry partners will serve a dual role as advisors on emergent work force skills as well as identifying and promoting opportunities for autistic individuals in the job market. The Innovation Hub at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology includes the Maker Space, Composite Prototyping Center, Robotics Lab, Flight Simulators, and Air Traffic Control Simulators. This Hub will inform and drive the project and its methodology. Dissemination strategies will include postings about project activities and results on the project website and the Autism Speaks website, as well as through local workshops and presentations at conferences.