BOSTON—(April 22, 2024)—To coincide with Autism Acceptance Month, TERC researchers have released the results of a four-year study on strengthening the skills and learning of neurodivergent students in mainstream classrooms. 

The study showed increases in the problem-solving strengths of autistic and other neurodivergent learners in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). By using computational thinking in teaching and learning materials, it reveals that neurodivergent learners benefit from executive function (EF) supports that allow their strengths in computational thinking to shine. The study of Including Neurodiversity in Foundational and Applied Computational Thinking (INFACT) showed that learners in grades 3-5 who used INFACT activities with EF supports demonstrated significant improvement in computational thinking practices related to problem-solving.

“The teachers in the study reported that neurodivergent students who were previously disengaged became leaders in computational thinking, increasing their interest in learning and showing stronger self-esteem,” said TERC researcher Jodi Asbell-Clarke, PhD, MA, MSc, the lead on the project. 

Jodi Asbell-Clarke in a classroom with students.
Jodi Asbell-Clarke working in a classroom with students.

Through various computational thinking activities–-including games, puzzles, robotics, coding, and physical activities–elementary students increased their problem-solving abilities. Students with executive function (EF) challenges, a hallmark of many neurodivergent learners, showed the greatest improvement. The study joins a groundbreaking book by Asbell-Clarke, Reaching and Teaching Neurodivergent Learners in STEM, now available for educators, administrators, and others interested in neurodivergent learners, including students with autism.

“Reaching students with autism and other neurodivergent learners has been the sole focus of this team for years,” said Laurie Brennan, president of TERC. “Led by Jodi Asbell-Clarke, PhD, not only is this research groundbreaking, it has the ability to change the very nature of education and the lives of learners.”  

Computational Thinking Research

TERC’s research suggests that all learners can benefit from inclusive teaching strategies using EF supports designed for neurodivergent learners, enabling all learners to succeed academically. Additionally, many neurodivergent students succeed when teaching includes inclusive computational learning. The team based at TERC, an R&D not-for-profit focused on STEM education, began research on INFACT in 2019 with funding from the US Department of Education. 

Brennan added that the unique backgrounds of the TERC team members, including Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki, PhD, Teon Edwards, M.Ed,  Erin Bardar, PhD, Tara Robillard, M.Ed, Kelly Paulson B.S., and Renee Pawlowski, MLIS, bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

The Book

Reaching and Teaching Neurodivergent Learners in STEM features illustrations of classroom-designed tools and materials alongside practical strategies to support executive function and emotion in learning. Written for K-12 classroom teachers, special educators, learning specialists, psychologists, and school administrators, the book empowers educators to embrace the cognitive strengths of students with autism and other neurodivergent learners in STEM. Author Asbell-Clarke, whose academic background includes a MA in math, an MSc. in astrophysics, and a Ph.D. in curriculum, teaching, and learning, provides salient stories and practical strategies for educators to use in the classroom. The book is available via Amazon

“In nearly every classroom I enter, I meet neurodivergent learners who think they are stupid or broken, and they just don’t do well at the game of school,” said Asbell-Clarke. “Yet, neurodivergent learners are often exactly the creative, systematic, non-conforming, and persistent problem solvers we need in our future STEM workforce and our society. I want to make sure we teach these kids that they are brilliant, not broken.“

For more information on TERC, research or Dr. Asbell-Clarke’s book, visit

Susan Stoga