While our understanding of what it means to have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continues to grow, many people with autism still have a hard time navigating their communities. As a result, some kids with ASD have a hard time in school, and might even reject the learning environment entirely because it doesn’t accommodate their needs.
There are organizations looking to change that. When kids with ASD in engage in STEAM concepts on their terms, they can discover a love of learning that stays with them for years. A love of STEAM can also encourage autistic children and teens to continue their education when they might have otherwise given up.
Check out these 20 organizations helping kids with ASD build an interest in STEAM concepts while growing their social skills.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire
On the first Sunday of every month during the school year, The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire hosts Exploring Our Way throughout the morning. The museum is closed until noon and only open to kids with ASD and their parents. This gives those children a safe place to explore in a less overwhelming environment. Parents can network and form support connections. The museum has special programs for the Exploring Our Way days with a view to promoting social skills and a love of STEAM.
Taking Autism to the Sky
Founded in 2012, Taking Autism to the Sky (TATTS) uses drones to create videos with and for kids with ASD. The organization was crowdfunded through Kickstarter and has continued to grow each year. Their 2018 summer programs were held in Madison, Wisconsin, and TATTS continues to work closely with the community to help others better understand what people with ASD see, while helping those with ASD gain perspective on new ways to view the world.
The goal of STEAM Achievers is to bridge the learning gap in tech for students with diverse backgrounds. Along with trying to reach both boys and girls from various communities, STEAM Achievers designs tools, games, and events around tech-lovers with ASD. In April 2019, for Autism Awareness Month, the organization is hosting a hackathon for teens to develop video games that are ASD-friendly.
Teaching the Autism Community Trades
Teaching the Autism Community Trades (TACT) teaches kids, teens, and young adults with ASD vocational skills they can use throughout their lives. Participants can focus on anything from engine repair and auto mechanics to radio circuitry and woodworking. This program is ideal for teens who want to expand their skills and pursue a career, or for young people who love to tinker and explore the inner workings of various machines and equipment.
Have Dreams is a Chicago-based nonprofit that creates programs for kids with autism. They have a variety of programs for kids and teens, including swimming lessons and weekend classes for children who were recently diagnosed. Have Dreams has a STEAM Tech Club that explores new concepts in tech each week during the first half and then engages kids in social activities based on that information in the second half.
Paragon Autism Services
Paragon Autism Services in Virginia has partnered with the regional library to develop a Creative Minds program focusing on STEAM concepts. The club meets monthly and is geared toward kids grades K-6 and their siblings. Participants explore STEAM concepts in their own time and their own way. Additionally, Paragon has a monthly Lego club for kids with special needs (and there are trains too).
Parents of Autistic Children LEGO® Club
Parents of Autistic Children (POAC) periodically hosts LEGO clubs and other STEAM-based programs for kids with ASD. Children work in pairs and small groups to complete LEGO sets. Through this club, they get to engineer new creations, while learning skills like collaboration, eye-contact, gaze-following, and verbal communication. The program lasts six weeks, so kids can build relationships over time and grow more confident working together.
Autism Families CONNECTicut
Autism Families CONNECTicut also has a LEGO club that meets regularly. “Building on the Spectrum” is a four week program that uses LEGO bricks to help kids learn to play together while engaged in one of their favorite hobbies. This organization has a variety of programs and events, so check back for other STEAM-related activities geared toward kids and teens with ASD and their families.
Spectrum Technology Club
Since 1998, the Spectrum Autism Support Group in Atlanta has provided families with resources, education materials, and activities that build up the local community. To date, they have helped more than 1,500 families. Throughout the year, they have a technology club that meets weekly on Tuesdays. This group is for kids in sixth grade and up, and for adults. Participants work together to complete small group activities related to STEAM concepts, simultaneously building their social skills and appreciation for science and tech.
Tech Kids Unlimited
Tech Kids Unlimited has two programs for kids with ASD. Kids aged 7-13 participate in the younger club and then graduate to the older club for teens and young adults 14-21. The goal of this organization is to teach technology to kids who learn differently. You can see some of their projects online or browse upcoming events. Tech Kids Unlimited is based in New York and runs workshops throughout the year.
The Art of Autism
The Art of Autism is a collaborative group of people who have “come together to display the creative abilities of people on the autism spectrum and others who are neurodivergent.” They partner with organizations to highlight the artistic talents of autistic individuals and accept art in multiple forms, from written poetry to stunning visual creations.
Geek Club Books
Geek Club Books is a nonprofit that focuses on storytelling through technology to raise awareness about the lives of people with ASD. They create videos, a TV series, comics, and a magazine featuring creative people with autism. The more people tell their stories, the less stigmatized autism will become, and others might understand what living with ASD is really like. The organization also provides resources for families and educators.
The Miracle Project
Located in Beverly Hills, The Miracle Project is a music, theatre, and arts program that caters to kids, teens, and adults with autism. Participants build their social and job skills while having a platform to express themselves creatively. The Miracle Project has helped kids who were previously too timid to even walk into a room with their peers perform in front of packed audiences. The performers learn together and support each other throughout.
Actors for Autism
Similar to the Miracle Project, Actors for Autism provides vocational training and opportunities in the arts, film, television, and video game industries. Located in Southern California, Actors for Autism has helped people with ASD for the past 15 years. Not only does this program change the careers for professionals with ASD, it also increases the exposure of people on the autism spectrum, reaching kids across the world so they see people like themselves in the media.
Autism Society of Southern Arizona
If you live near Tucson and the University of Arizona, check out the STEAM camps offered by the Autism Society of Southern Arizona. The camps are offered two to three times throughout the school year and are available to students ages 11-18. Kids work with college students and professors on the university campus to explore concepts related to robotics, science, and engineering. Meanwhile, parents learn about their options for sending their kids to college and where they can find the best support systems for their needs.
Science Prep Academy
Also based in Arizona, Science Prep Academy is a private school in Phoenix that caters to students with autism who are preparing to go to college or enter their future career field. Their STEM Club is supported by local universities and students can learn in small class settings where they feel comfortable. All students also participate in the First LEGO League Team, where they create programs and robots with LEGOs and compete in local tournaments.
Stairway to STEM
Stairway to STEM is an online community for teens with ASD who are transitioning to college. While it helps students in most majors, this site particularly focuses on students entering STEAM fields. There are materials for students, families, and educators. People can also post in forums and get advice as they head into college. The message is clear: students with ASD don’t have to face college alone.
RoboLink provides STEAM education to kids during and after school hours. Kids get to explore subjects ranging from robotics to 3D printing and web design. Robolink caters to autistic children in particular. They use their non-profit arm to fund free ‘STEMability’ clubs across the country. These clubs create engaging STEAM experiences for neurodiverse students.
CoderDojo is a nonprofit run by volunteers who create coding clubs. More than 58,000 young people and 12,000 volunteers across 108 countries have formed coding clubs that engage kids in programing through CoderDojo’s 200 ready-made projects. A few local communities have developed CoderDojo clubs specifically for kids and teens with ASD. Even if there are no autism STEAM resources near you, you can start one with this club. The CoderDojo community also has guidelines for working with kids with ASD to make their clubs more inclusive.
Based in Australia, The Lab offers a series of technology clubs for kids with ASD. Clubs are available for kids age 10-16 and are typically comprised of roughly 12 to 20 young people each. The Lab provides direction and lesson plans, and local community leaders can form clubs and use their resources. Topics range from 3D printing to coding and robotics.