Model Logo


Table of Contents

Click on a title to visit

Inclusion in Syn-Bio
What we Did
Lab Course
Best Practices
Resources for Professors
Stop Animations

Inclusion in Synthetic Biology

We decided to focus on a group of individuals who are at a great disadvantage when it comes to obtaining exposure to the STEM fields - specifically synthetic biology - but are more than capable of thriving in the field if afforded the proper opportunities: Autistic individuals.

We know that, generally, autistic individuals have many institutional obstacles they have to overcome in order to achieve success. Even in our own university setting, we see the struggles of these students when it comes to awareness, accommodation, and receiving the proper support from professors. In addition, according to Forbes Magazine, “universities have been notably “absent as participants in autism employment initiatives”. In order to get a better understanding of this problem, we met with Ann-Katrin - head of the special needs education team at an inclusive elementary school in Germany. Ann-Katrin helped us explore just how exclusive schools all around the world were to neurodivergent individuals. In Germany, these neurodivergent students attend special schools where they focus on reading, writing, and daily life training. The science education they do receive is very limited and general, with no focus on the various disciplines. After secondary school, access to higher education is rare for these special needs individuals, as neither buildings nor professors are well-equipped. We discovered that while changes have been made so that teachers are provided courses on inclusive education, this change has not been enforced. For example, Ms. Röhrs informed us that in Austria, there are two courses on inclusivity, but they are low-quality, not created by professionals, and further, there are no current obligations to even take these courses! Hearing all this is what ultimately solidified our decision to focus on autistic individuals.

We decided to delve deeper into the topic and meet with numerous individuals in order to learn more about the autistic community and what we could do to help to increase their access to the field of synthetic biology. An early contact of ours was Andrew Eddy-- co-founder of Untapped and the Neurodiversity Hub, which started in Australia and has expanded globally.

Andrew Eddy

Co-founder of Untapped and the Neurodiversity Hub, Australia

Figure 1: Meeting with Andrew Eddy.

Andrew Eddy is an Australia-based connection who is co-founder of the Neurodiversity Hub and Untapped, a hiring initiative program for neurodiverse and autistic individuals. Andrew was a very early contact soon after we had decided on our inclusivity project, and he helped us gauge what initiatives we wanted to implement.


  • Andrew explained that, overall, there is a 80% unemployment rate in the neurodiverse population.
  • The best thing we can do is spread awareness about autism on our campus.
  • There is a lack of understanding in university faculty and staff about what autism is and what to do to support/accommodate these students.
  • It is important to receive feedback from the targeted population-- autistic individuals-- as they know their needs best.
  • According to Andrew Eddy, autistic people have specific competencies and traits that employees seek, such as dependability and attention to detail.

Adjustments Made

  • With the help of our Policy and Practice team, Dr. Alexis Stein-- one of our advisors and the professor who coordinates biology teaching labs at our university-- is implementing a course into future years’ curriculum to teach biological research techniques to all students. This lab will have a focus on the needs of autistic students and hopefully by allowing them to better grasp laboratory techniques, they will be more likely to be hired for research positions, and therefore lower that staggering unemployment rate.
  • To spread awareness, and expose faculty and staff to the neurodiverse community on campus, we worked with the disabilities office to develop an informational video that focused on the autistic community’s needs. The video is posted on our University’s Community Engagement site and is posted on the website of our disabilities office.
  • We created an inclusive pedagogy training course for professors in order to foster a classroom setting that is inclusive to autistic individuals and to help faculty be more aware and accommodating of the needs of their students.

Andrew Eddy provided us with numerous ideas about what needs autistic students have-- improved awareness and representation-- and we were inspired by his work with the Neurodiversity Hub and Untapped. In addition to this information, he also informed us that autistic individuals grasp information in a unique fashion, and therefore in order to accommodate this we should structure our wiki in a specific manner: keep our wiki clean and uncluttered, be clear in the diction (taking into account potential sensory overload), not using expressions that could-- but shouldn't-- be taken literally, and most importantly, being sensitive to autistic culture.

With this information from Andrew Eddy about practical actions we could initiate at our own school, and with the knowledge that in order to do anything productive for autistic students would require talking to an autistic student themselves, we set up a meeting with Thomas Ledbetter.

Thomas Ledbetter

Masters Student at the Warner School of Education

Thomas Ledbetter graduated from the University of Rochester in 2020, with a double major in Psychology and Brain & Cognitive Sciences. As an autistic student with a passion for research and advocacy, he was a research assistant at the Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics - Golisano Children’s Hospital, shadowing and learning about how research is conducted with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Additionally, in a Developmental Neuropsychology lab at U of R, he worked on sensory processing and other aspects of ASD, while interacting with children with ASD and their families within the greater Rochester community. Now he is a Master’s student at the Warner School of Education in human development and disability studies. We reached out to him in order to understand what the autistic community needs most and to get his feedback on our initiatives.


  • Often professors believe that autistic students are not paying attention in class, when in fact they are just truly processing and concentrating on specific aspects of the lecture. Gazing around the room with wandering eyes does not mean not paying attention.
  • Thomas explained importance of seeing situations on a case-by-case basis and genuinely wanting to understand and help students. All that autistic students need to be successful at their full potential is slightly more support and more clear communication.
  • Out of all college students, one in fifty is on the autism spectrum, a statistic that is largely unknown.
  • It’s truly important to increase awareness.

Adjustments Made

  • Thomas gave us specific suggestions for the “Best Practices for Teaching Autistic Students” document that we created. His suggestions were mostly about phrasing such that the recommendation can be useful for a broad autistic community.His suggestions were mostly about various mediums of teaching. He also suggested avoiding generalizations when writing best practices advice such that the recommendation can be useful for a broad autistic community.
  • Thomas confirmed that there is a lot of work left to be done, and that having a training for professors would be beneficial. He also liked our lab course and agreed that it would prepare students better for working in research labs. This encouraged us to reach out to professors to implement the course next semester.

The conversation with Thomas truly helped us learn more about the autistic community and the most important issues students have in university settings. We received valuable feedback on the final plans for the professor training as well as the lab course meant to prepare students for research. As a response, we created a best practices list for biology professors at our university and created the Lab Techniques Course that would improve the experience of autistic students, based on Thomase’s advice. We appreciate the time he spent with us sharing his thoughts about autism.

Meeting with Thomas proved very useful in determining what courses of action we wanted to take, and having met with an autistic student from the University of Rochester, we also decided to meet with Director Amy Wight from our school’s Office of Disabilities Resources, who is heavily involved with helping these students. We wanted to get an idea of our school’s neurodivergent demographic, and current resources that are available to them.

Amy Wight

Director of the Office of Disabilities Resources at the University of Rochester

Figure 2: Meeting with Amy Wight.

Amy Wight is the Director of the Office of Disabilities Resources at the University of Rochester. We contacted her in order to find out more about the services offered to the neurodiverse students at our university. The Disabilities Office is the provider of all accommodations to students with learning differences. We also wanted to gauge the necessity of our initiatives on campus.


  • Many students come into college and either don't know if they are autistic, or they’re not willing to disclose that information.
  • There are about 600 students with learning disabilities registered with the Disabilities Office, but Ms. Wight thinks that many many more are not registered. Of the 600, 40 students are autistic and about 250 have ADHD.
  • Our efforts targeted towards autistic students will enable us to positively impact students with other disabilities as well.
  • So far the office has not succeeded at engaging the professors as much in this issue.
  • Most importantly, there needs to be an improved awareness about the learning differences of autistic students. This is something the Disabilities Office has been struggling with for a while.

Adjustments Made

  • We decided to focus our efforts on spreading awareness about neurodiversity in general as well as autism.
  • We realized it is worth targeting professors at our university, starting with the Biology Department and improving our initiatives there, including the following:.
    • Lab Techniques Course
    • Resources for professors including better teaching practices sent out in the faculty letter
    • Information about autism spread to schools worldwide through our best practices compilation
  • Organizing orientation workshops for faculty and students to bring awareness throughout the schools of our Univeristy.

With numerous ideas abound from our prior meetings and our meeting with the Disabilities Office, we met with Director Cathy Caiazza from University of Rochester’s career center to begin gathering practical information about how to start the implementation of our ideas and initiatives.

Cathy Caiazza

Director of Career Curriculum Initiatives at the University of Rochester Greene Center

Figure 3: Meeting with Cathy Caiazza.

Cathy Caiazza is the director of Career Curriculum Initiatives at the University of Rochester Greene Center. We reached out to her to get some information about how we can implement various inclusivity initiatives at our school. These initiatives include a biology laboratory course that would teach basic bench techniques that are commonly used in research and classes. The course would be for everyone, but heavily advertised towards autistic students, and have an instructor that is aware of their neurodivergence and willing to work with them. Additionally, we wanted to spread awareness about the autistic community at our school through professor training.


  • Cathy informed us of the entire process that goes into getting a course implemented, from getting a faculty advisor to taking our proposal to the curriculum committee for approval.
  • According to Cathy, our university does not currently have a lab techniques course. While our university has some skill-related courses (such as Python, R, Excel), there are no skills courses specific to wet lab techniques.
  • Cathy told us that it is difficult to implement a required training for all faculty, and that another way to raise awareness to faculty and staff was to advertise through campus newsletters.

Adjustments Made

  • We have found an advisor to help us create the course, and one member from our Policy and Practice team will perform an independent study with this professor to create the course.
  • Cathy’s confirmation that this type of lab course does not currently exist helped us to pitch our idea as something that will address a need at our university.
  • We reached out to our university’s library. We provided the librarians with various links to resources that may be useful to professors wanting to learn more about how to address the needs of the autistic population in the classroom. The library sends out resources to professors at the start of every academic year and will do so with our resources as well.

Cathy Caiazza was a useful source when it came to determining the steps we needed to take to implement our lab course as an official course, as well as providing information on what sorts of courses are already in place. Additionally, Cathy helped us learn more about the process of implementing inclusivity training for professors and other ways to raise awareness about autism.After meeting with Cathy Caiazza, we decided to compare the approaches of our university’s system with the programs for sutistic students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). RIT has a large autistic community and we decided to model our efforts after the initiatives that have worked and are supported by professionals in the programs for autistic students at RIT. In order to do so, we reached out to Laurie Ackles, Director of the Spectrum Support Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Laurie Ackles

Director of the Spectrum Support Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology

Figure 4. Meeting with Laurie Ackles

Laurie Ackles is the Director of the Spectrum Support Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). As part of this program, she started a Neurodiverse Hiring Initiative, which seeks to connect students on the autism spectrum with employers seeking neurodiverse talent. It is a huge success and they even started an optional Bootcamp Program meant to prepare students for the workplace once hired. We met with Ms. Ackles to understand what are the strengths of autistic students, how they present these to employees, how to help students navigate the job search in the best way, and if the Spectrum Support Program has any partnerships with Synthetic Biology companies.


  • The main thing students need help with is learning self-advocacy, i.e. being able to clearly tell employees what they need and having the courage to ask for help.
  • Data analysis, cyber security, technical management are fields that are actively looking for neurodiverse talent because students showed particular proficiency.
  • For students’ success, it is truly important to have clear communication and expectations. Both visual and auditory communication is crucial in the classroom and work setting.
  • Even changing small things like lighting, structure of the room, noise and temperature of the environment, labelling of equipment can make a difference in students’ comfort/success in the workplace

Adjustments Made

  • Since fields that require more mathematical and exact skills were looking for neurodiverse talent, we thought that the position of a lab technician would have similar skill set preferences.
    • Dr. Alexis Stein, Assistant Professor of Biology at UofR confirmed this, because of the requirement to run experiments with a lot of accuracy and precision.
  • Based on Laurie’s comment about the importance of the work space environment, we compiled a list of suggestions for lab space designs that will improve the ability of autistic individuals to focus on their task at hand.
  • Laurie showed us the resources on their website, which were very specific and well organized. They have an amazing document on how to navigate a job fair that we could use. Also, they confirmed that having a video on our career center website on how to support autistic students in college would be beneficial.

With a clearer understanding of the needs of the autistic population at our school, and what initiatives would serve them best when it comes to increasing exposure to STEM and Synthetic Biology, we began implementing our ideas.

What We Did

Our Policy and Practice team, with the guidance of a professor at our university, Dr. Stein, is implementing a lab course as an official university course in future years’ curriculum. This lab will be open to all students but will have a focus on the needs of autistic students. It will serve to supplement first and second-year STEM course labs, by providing a more in-depth and skills-based environment for students to practice basic bench techniques that might be mentioned in the regular curriculum, but glossed over in such a way that full mastery is not acquired. We have a commitment by Dr. Alexis Stein, Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Rochester, that this course will be taught starting the Fall Semester, 2022. The course will also have Teaching Assistants who are helpful and willing to go the extra mile in making sure students understand how to properly use all the machinery and perform all the techniques. Our team will brief the professor on how to best teach autistic students using our Best Practices for Teaching Autistic Students document, and will be provided with supplementary resources on the topic. This lab techniques course will likely be two credits and meet either once or twice a week for two hours. The class will be kept small to ensure that all students are receiving the maximum necessary attention. Course elements will include skill-based learning and reading research papers to gain critical reading skills. Due to social sensitivities that are often present in autistic individuals, this course will be led in a non-intimidating way such that each student will be asked what they are and are not comfortable with, and will also have an element that focuses on life-skills workshops. Workshops will help students with social requirements that may be hindering them from getting into a lab. For example, workshops will focus on how to properly reach out to PI’s to ask to work in their labs, and how to exhibit the interview skills necessary to get hired. This course will be a resource that students can use to master lab techniques, find research positions at our university and beyond, and get hired. The goal is to allow students to better grasp laboratory techniques that are necessary for research positions and also to provide the care and practical guidance that may not be present in regular STEM courses. It is our hope we can help more autistic students get internships and jobs in science research, and to lower the staggering unemployment rate of this population.

Lab Course

The course was developed based on the high prevalence of research in our university. As a research institution, nearly 85% of students engage in research at one point in their college years. A majority of this research is in the sciences, and a great place to increase inclusion. Dr. Stein was excited about an opportunity to design a course that would be more accessible to all students. The final course plan is designed so that any student is able to learn effectively and acquire techniques that will be required for a successful research career in the synthetic biology field. The benefit of this course is that it will incorporate knowledge and practice of techniques, as well as strategies of contacting Primary Investigators they would be interested in doing research with. The outline of the course is provided below:

Course Components

  1. Class meets 2 times a week, 2 hours each - in person hours a week.
  2. Class will carry 2 credits and last for half of a semester
  3. Synthetic Biology techniques focus is key in this course
    • The goal is to provide students with concrete skills, discussed below, that will enable them to independently complete experiments in synthetic biology labs.
  4. Research papers will be read every week with emphasis on developing critical reading skills for research papers specifically.
    • Dr. Stein mentioned that autistic students tend to focus on some sections of the paper that are not as important, but miss sections that may be more significant. According to her, reading research papers with a guide explaining what to look for will be very useful for these students.
    • The papers will be papers published by UofR faculty in synthetic biology areas of focus so that students can find a lab they would be interested in working in later on.
    • Reading research papers will also helps students get examples of how the techniques are useful outside of class, in the context of a specific research project.
      • The relation to real research topics will expand the imagination of students and increase their interest in the class.
  5. Workshop on how to reach out to PIs asking to work in the lab
    • Autistic students often need guidance with soft-skills and communication in specific scenarios. This workshop will help them navigate the search for a lab to apply their skills in.
  6. Workshop on the different career fields students can go into if they like syn bio research and how to get involved.

Students will be given background from one of the general biology classes available at the University of Rochester

Week 1 + 2:

  • Lab safety
  • Workshop on career fields in Syn Bio with overview of UofR opportunities (programs/jobs/etc)
  • Lesson about buffer preparation and in general how to make reagents and follow recipes/create them
  • DNA extraction - can do it from insects, swabs, many different types of starting material
  • Report on paper that was read for second week (on DNA extraction)
  • Week 3 + 4:

  • PCR and electrophoresis, Southern Blots (if not too expensive)
    • Perfecting these techniques until can do comfortably independently
    • There are some non-radioactive southern blots probes that we could use. Not super expensive, possibly do-able.
  • 2 papers on PCR and electrophoresis or about DNA amplification in general
    • Libraries and DNA expression analysis

    Week 5 + 6 + 7:

  • Protein analysis - with overview of protein structure
    • Western Blots (spend a lot of time on this as is common) / ELISAs (if not expensive)
      • Could make 110 a requirement and assume western blot was learned/let students try on their own.
      • There are teaching ELISA kits that we could buy and those are not super expensive.
    • Mass spectrometry
      • Can get mass spec data and analyze it and learn how to do peptide sequencing based on it.
    • De Novo Peptide Sequencing
  • 3 Papers involving protein analysis
  • Week 8 + 9 + 10:

  • Cell Culture Growing (seeding and reseeding)
    • Viral transformation imitations
    • Modifying the genome of bacteria (antibiotic resistance, gram positive/negative)
    • Splitting cells
    • Tissue culture is currently lacking resources, but Dr. Stein is looking to acquire them. But possible …
      • Needs more research here
      • Expenses of different cell lines
      • Research faculty that is interested in having students already prepared for growing cell culture
  • 3 papers on modification of bacteria and cell cultures
    • Bacteriophage
    • Transfection and integration
    • Viruses used as vectors for gene delivery

    Week 11 +12:

  • Independently pick a paper that incorporates topics that are interested in and present about it and what techniques would be useful and how would improve and further the experiments outlined
    • In the lab, conduct an experiment from that paper independently (with some help if needed)
      • Documentation, replication of experiments

    Week 13:

  • Workshop on reaching out to PIs
  • Online tools for searching for restriction enzymes, primer design, tools for cloning and DNA manipulations
  • Week 14:

  • Practice techniques during lab time to really get comfortable with them.
  • Week 15:

  • No final, but have to conduct all the techniques independently and show that understand the point for each one.
  • Grades based on assignment completion, participation and final week assessments.

Lab Specific Changes to better fit neurodiverse students:

  • combination of written, verbal, and pictorial instructions with scaffolding
  • repeated demonstration of procedure and support practice
  • frequent, brief breaks
  • preferential seating to avoid distractions and minimize extraneous stimuli
  • flexible schedule and time allocation
  • use plastic instead of glass
  • allow extra time for set up and completion of lab work

Common Strengths of Autistic People:

  • Concentration
  • Attention to detail
  • Memory
  • Problem solving (often times with alternative approaches)
  • Decoding and recognizing patterns and understanding rules and sequences
  • Extensive knowledge in specific topics of interest
  • Logical thinking
  • Often times above average intelligence
  • Thinking and learning in a visual way
  • Honesty and reliability
  • Direct communication
  • Good visual and spatial learners
  • Strong sense of equality and justice

Common Challenges of Autistic People:

  • Hard time motivating and focusing on topics outside of interest (have specific topics they are interested and hyper focused on)
  • Understanding and following unwritten social rules
  • Expressing feelings (in a way others would understand)
  • Perceiving emotions of other people
  • Social interactions
  • Setting boundaries
  • Working in groups
  • Asking for clarifications and assistance
  • Interpreting vague instructions

Best Practices

Because of the advice we got from our meetings-- specifically from Thomas Ledbetter-- that he believes our university would benefit from a training course for science professors about how to best accommodate and be mindful of students with autism, we created a “Best Practices” document to distribute to professors at our university. From our own research and meetings with professionals, we compiled information on how autism can present itself in the classroom setting, and what professors can do to assist these students. “The Best Teaching Practices” document focuses on the universal design of learning to provide professors with suggestions that would help both autistic and neurotypical students alike. This document will be available to professors through the University of Rochester library resources.

Best Teaching Practices for Autistic Students:

Universal Design:

  1. All of these accommodations and teaching techniques can be useful to all students, not just a specific group!
  2. Goal is to enable students to choose the best mode of learning for them by giving them more options.


  1. Understand the prevalence and the syndrome:
    • 1 in 160 children are autistic.1
    • It is estimated that students with autism comprise between 0.7 - 1.9% of the college population.2
    • Only 38.8% of college students with Autism will graduate compared to the national average of 60.4%.3,4
  2. Have various outlets for students to be able to ask questions:
    • Office hours
    • In class
    • Have a form available for students to submit questions if they are not comfortable asking during class.
  3. Keep in mind, autistic students may not be able to ask questions clearly. Because of this, make sure to:
    • Expand on topics as much as possible
    • Be patient
    • If a student continues to ask a similar question repeatedly, it is possible that they are having difficulty explaining their question. So, try to go beyond what is being asked and also add examples.
  4. Structure Powerpoints and slideshows to be easily digestible:
    • Provide visual representations to represent all information on the slides and all verbal information.
    • Keep the words on slides to a minimum.
  5. Use direct language:
    • Avoid metaphorical language
    • Avoid complicated or “fluffy” diction

Resources for Professors

These resources can be useful for a professor who wants more information on how to best support students.

On Research Autism’s website, there is a video explaining how college can be a difficult time for a student on the Autism Spectrum, and as such, it provides some details about how professors can best help them. Autistic students can often present as completely neurotypical initially, but once you get to know them, you will be able to pick up on some of their idiosyncrasies. Additionally, each student and each autism case can present very differently-- it could be anyone in the classroom. A significant challenge autistic students face is that they have a lot of difficulty understanding “non-verbal behavior and social nuance.” Also, oftentimes they are highly sensitive to sensory stimuli, and so it is important to make sure the class environment, as well as the lectures being presented take into account their specific needs and sensitivities. Some accommodations that could be made, are working with the student to allow them to sit somewhere in the room where sensory stimuli is at a minimum-- for example, somewhere where there are no flickering lights or loud air conditioners nearby. Additionally, academic accommodations that could be useful include: defining classroom expectations; allowing students to have a notetaker or having access to the professor’s notes; and providing them with extra time on exams and in-class essays. The most important thing is to not get frustrated and do your best to personally help each student with whatever their needs may be.5

The Neurodiversity Hub has posted a “Transition to University'' document with information developed from the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre about the transition to university for an Autistic student and how staff can be supportive. Many autistic students have significant trouble going from secondary school to university and should be treated with compassion and given accommodations where necessary. While autistic students often have good memorization skills and attention to detail, they may struggle greatly with social communication, behavioral, and emotional issues. Their strengths can be a significant asset when it comes to academic flourishing, and similarly, their challenges can also affect their academic life greatly if not given the proper accommodations and support. It is important to provide appropriate support that is tailored to the individual differences of each autistic student. A strategy staff can incorporate to help students include meeting regularly with them to make sure they are getting the most out of your class, and to understand if they have any needs that require further attention or accomodation. Additionally, explicit communication and providing students with a schedule of all assignments and exams ahead of time could be very beneficial. The Disability Standards for Education (2005) require “reasonable adjustments” and “alternative assessment arrangements” for students to allow for “equal access to academic courses and activities.”As such, it is essential for staff and faculty to work with their university’s disabilities office to assess what the necessary classroom and examination accommodations are for each individual.6

Autism and Communication

Common features of Autistic students:

  • Difficulty in learning and using social skills such as eye contact, greetings, appropriate touch.
  • Difficulty in using communication rules — turn taking, volume of speech.
  • May have unconventional interactions with people or activities.
  • Focus on preferred topics, people, activities.
  • May appear unaware of, or disinterested in other people.


  • A student who does not understand the "turn-taking" nature of conversation may dominate interactions to the point of alienating fellow students or staff.
  • A student may not appreciate that in a 50 minute lecture it is the lecturer who has the overall "turn" so students don't get an equal share of the talking time!
  • A student who may persist with one topic or perspective rather than being able to move on in the discussion or lecture.
  • A student who appears to interrupt or even physically move between people to have their needs met or attended to.

The reactions are not likely to be personal; they are coming from a different perspective and understanding of the world than yours or mine.

Strategies for Staff

Match Communication Styles

  • For the most part in our society, we look for eye contact, facial expression, body orientation and stillness as an indicator that a person is attentive to us, and listening and paying attention to content and meaning.
  • Eye contact can often be difficult for Autistic individuals, so it can interrupt their capacity to listen and concentrate.
  • Even if we do receive eye contact from these individuals, we may not actually have the person’s true attention.
  • Occasionally, Autistic individuals can exhibit signs that look like they are not paying attention-- looking across shoulders, looking down, or moving around. This can often be a sign that they are concentrating.

Identify and Avoid Triggers

  • We know that autistic individuals may be sensitive to noise, lights, tastes, smells, and textures.
  • Consider this in 1-1 or group meetings, lectures, classes, lab sessions, clinics or studies.

Consider your role with students including those with a disability.

  • What is your role and relationship with ASD students including Asperger's Syndrome?
  • To what extent can you and should you adapt or extend that role and relationship?
  • What time constraints exist in your role?
  • How can you organise the contact to be effective?
  • Are you assessing the capacity of the students to work as a cohesive group, or are you assessing their knowledge, skills and mastery of the curriculum material?
  • Is group work integral to you being able to assess the student's knowledge, skills and standard of work?
  • Could they work independently and still achieve the required learning outcomes?
  • Can you structure group work more tightly to allot roles and responsibilities, actions and timelines?

This document will be available to professors through the University of Rochester Library Resources.

Hiring Resources for Career Center:

We met with and informed our career center-- the Greene Center for Career Education-- that on top of the materials they currently have, additional hiring resources are necessary for Autistic students. We have suggested sources, all of which were endorsed by Laurie Ackles, Director of the Spectrum Support Program at the Rochester University of Technology, and more sources will be posted in November!

Figure 5. Resources posted on the Greene Center’s website

Awareness Video with the Disabilities Office:

In order to increase knowledge about autism at our university, we worked with the Disabilities Office to create a video focusing on autism awareness, as well as the services the Office offers for autistic individuals. The video covered numerous topics, from definitions and diagnostic criteria, to the proper way to address autistic individuals. A piece we thought especially important to include, were the statistics from our own school about how many students are registered with the Office of Disability Resources, and more specifically, how many have autism. Providing these numbers will hopefully allow students who see this video to feel less alone, and to show them that like their peers, they should feel comfortable registering with the Office of Disabilities if it is something they want to do. To that effect, we also highlighted the exact steps to take to begin registration, and what the process of obtaining accommodations is like. Hopefully, this will take out some of the fear and uncertainty students may have. The video is already posted on our school’s “Center for Community Engagement” site, and will be posted to the Disabilities Office Site in November. We appreciate Laura Sarchet of the Disabilities Office for filming this video using the recommendation and resources we provided the Disabilities office with. The video will help spread awareness to the university population and propel a movement towards a more inclusive environment on campus!

Figure 6: Autism Awareness Video.

Overview of Efforts and Recommendations for the Future

Overall, we were able to take the recommendations from Autism professionals we met with and use these to develop initiatives to serve the Autistic community at our university. We developed a Lab Techniques Course that will help students improve their basic bench techniques, as well as improve and work on social skills that are necessary for acquiring a research internship or job-- the interview process, how to ask professors to work in their lab, etc. This course will be added as an official course at our university in the Fall of 2022. We also created a “Best Practices for Teaching Autistic Students” document that highlights numerous techniques and resources professors can use to best accommodate and support autistic individuals. This document will be available to professors through the University of Rochester library resources. Additionally, we analyzed the resources currently available at our school catered specifically to students with autism looking to find jobs, and noticed a deficit. As such, we worked with our career center and a professional to find and suggest additional resources to be posted. In an effort to raise awareness about Autism and also about the support the Office of Disabilities Resources can provide, we partnered with their department to create a video that would clearly explain all this information. It is currently posted on the University of Rochester “Center for Community Engagement” site, and will be posted on the Office of Disabilities Resources website in November. Finally, we paid attention to design our wiki page in a way that would be accessible to autistic people, and so we made the animations able to be toggled off in order to reduce sensory information for individuals with a sensitivity. We are hopeful that our efforts will raise awareness about Autism, and also help increase accessibility to STEM opportunities for autistic students!


  • World Health Organization. (n.d.). Autism spectrum disorders. World Health Organization. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
  • Students with autism in the college classroom. Students with Autism in the College Classroom | HEATH Resource Center | The George Washington University. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
  • Journal of College Student Development. College Autism Network (CAN). (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2021, from .
  • College graduation statistics. Education Data Initiative. (2021, August 9). Retrieved October 19, 2021, from,average%20a%2031.6%25%20graduation%20rate.
  • Transition to university resource for staff. Neurodiversity Hub. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2021, from
  • Understanding asperger syndrome: A professor's guide. Organization for Autism Research. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2021, from
  • Transition to university resource for staff. Neurodiversity Hub. (n.d.). Retrieved October 18, 2021, from