Advocating for Inclusive STEM Education

At Neurodiversity in STEM at TERC, we believe education should change to fit the learner, not the other way around. In this blog post, Sreenidi, a high school student, tells the story of a person taking action to ensure all students are supported in their learning goals.

My name is Sreenidi Bala. I’m a junior at Farmington High School in Farmington, CT. My journey into the world of education and advocacy for neurodivergent individuals began not in a classroom or a conference but in the simple, everyday moments shared with my childhood best friend. From early childhood, we were inseparable. He excelled in everything he did, from swimming to his photographic memory. Despite his obvious talents and innovative mind, I noticed a stark contrast in the way our futures were being shaped. I was encouraged to dream big, while my best friend was steered towards more constrained aspirations.

This discrepancy became even more apparent as I observed my peers in the Special Learning Classroom at school. Talented and capable, these students were nonetheless being prepared for a future within narrowly defined boundaries. This was especially true for nonverbal students like my friend Griff. They were often relegated to tasks that failed to challenge or engage them. Witnessing Griff’s curiosity about a Keyboard Music Game I was coding, it struck me: there was a profound gap in our education system, particularly in providing neurodivergent students with access to STEM education.

Motivated by the need to bridge this gap, I began developing engaging video lessons aimed at teaching basic technology skills to autistic students. The progress they made was eye-opening, reinforcing my belief that the issue was not their ability to learn, but how they were taught.

Driven by this insight, I assembled a team of educators, administrators, and specialists to create a Block-based Programming course tailored for neurodivergent learners. This course, focusing on the fundamentals of coding and the importance of digital citizenship, has since educated over 30 children in my district, enhancing their computational thinking, problem-solving abilities, and self-confidence.

Griff, who once found communication challenging, now uses his coding skills to express himself and interact with others, showcasing remarkable patience and problem-solving capabilities. His journey, along with those of other students, fuels my commitment to expanding access to this curriculum, making it freely available to all students nationwide through my platform: Code For All Minds.

My experiences have taught me the critical importance of inclusive education that caters to the unique strengths and challenges of neurodivergent individuals. It’s not just about coding; it’s about unlocking potential, fostering confidence, and opening up new pathways for students who are too often underestimated. As I work towards broadening the reach of our program and advocating for legislative support, I’m reminded every day of the transformative impact education can have when it truly meets the needs of all students.