Neurodiverse Telematic Embodied Learning

Neurodiverse Computational Thinking and Telematic Embodied Learning

A NSF-funded spin-off from the Telematic Embodied Learning stream, Fall 2021 – 2024.

Partner Organizations

Science Prep Academy, serving Neurodiverse students with Autism, Phoenix AZ

Neurodiversity Education Research Center

Temple Grandin School, Boulder CO

Activity, Objectives, Method

Online learning, also in the context of computational thinking (CT), tends to reproduce education and learning modes that privilege linear, isolated, neurotypical, and cognitivist thinking over that of creative, interdependent, and embodied interaction. Students with disabilities, specifically autistic students, too often find themselves without the support needed to excel academically, socially, creatively. This is magnified in the critical years of middle grade students and entering employment, and further exacerbated by neurotypical technologies like desktop video conferencing. Co-developing fresh techniques and technologies sensitive to diversely embodied experience together with learning methods appealing to innate playfulness such as making music can help build CT skills while building social and emotional capacity. This study uses Telematic Embodied Learning (TEL) enabling neurodiverse autistic middle school students to learn computational thinking via the internet as well as in person. We embed mastery of CT and select computer science concepts in creative ensemble activity, using tangible digital-physical musical technologies and techniques adaptable to a neurodiverse range of students. Our mixed methods research approach utilizes quantitative research to foreground scalable and generalizable neurodiverse practices and CT pedagogies and qualitative research to highlight students, teachers, parents, and future employers’ perceptions and experiences of neurodiversity and neurodiverse pedagogies. We develop TEL Labs for students, parents, and employers, and prepare workshops for teachers from collaborative schools to guide them in a socially engaging learning lab.

Intellectual Merit

We propose that CT is a fundamental and transversal skill which could be taught more effectively using embodied ways. This project also contributes to 4E Cognition as embodied, enactive, extended, and embedded experience. Additionally, our work speaks to use- based approaches to third-wave HCI human- computer interaction, inspired by creative research in real-time gestural media, experiential systems, somatic and sensorimotor studies. In particular, the iterative co-design process and practitioner model provide data on the kinds of support and training teachers would need to equip

neurodiverse students with computer science concepts. This project packages generated knowledge into curricular materials and instructional technologies that teachers in middle and high schools can adapt.

Broader Impacts

The broader impact of this research addresses Computational Thinking education and the need for more inclusive educational practices that will benefit the individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their teachers, and ultimately all neurodiverse employers. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, with an estimated cost of $137 billion per year in the US. This translates to roughly 5.5 million individuals in the US who are less likely to go to college or find a job after high school. In working with teachers, parents, and employers, this research creates pathways to bridge the divide not just between schools but also the larger community. Our project will disseminate practical knowledge, skills and insights into neurodiverse education, computer science, and creativity through NERC as an innovative hub of research and practice serving individuals and organizations, schools and districts, industry and academia, students and parents. Participants’ indirect exposure to TEL and CT can lead to increased respect for neurodiverse children and job applicants, learning support, and changes in STEM field’s hiring practices and workplace accommodations. Finally, our work is designed to stimulate deeper partnership between schools, universities, and advocacy groups. Our work with families and employers will provide opportunities to empower individuals with inclusive and integrated modes for engaging with and creating computational media. And most importantly, our work builds pathways of support and facilitation for neurodiverse individuals that increase employment potential of students with autism in a more inclusive economy, where neurodiversity is a baseline rather than an exception. How can we design technologies that adapt to people’s individual needs and offer people ways to express themselves socially with each other, accommodating diverse, constantly evolving, and therefore emergent needs of neurodiverse learners?


Prof. Sha Xin Wei PhD: PI, Project director, Synthesis, AME

Clinical Asst. Prof. Seth Thorn PhD: Co-PI, music, wearable technologies, experimental performance, AME

Prof. Mirka Koro PhD: Co-PI, Qualitative research, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Prof. Margarita Pivovarova PhD: Co-PI, Quantitative research, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Tim Wells PhD: Project Lead, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Garrett L Johnson: experience design, AME Media Arts and Sciences PhD, Synthesis

Ananí M. Vasquez: Learning, Literacies and Technologies | Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College PhD

Andrew Robinson: research programmer – realtime media, user interfaces, Weightless, Synthesis


Connor Rawls: Media choreography systems, network media, responsive environments, AME

Pete Weisman: Audio-visual systems, responsive environments, AME