Presenting science to young adults with intellectual disabilities

Presenting science to young adults with intellectual disabilities

Author: Vanessa de Kauwe – Australian National University, Australia

The fields of science and science communication have long neglected students with intellectual disabilities. Increasing attempts have been made to include students with some disabilities in science activities, shows and exhibitions. However, when it comes to intellectual disabilities, it has been a case of too little for too long. Recent research reveals that science has been withheld from students with intellectual disabilities for over 40 years in most Western countries, with the exception of some token activities. The rationale for this is twofold. First is the notion that science activities do not assist in the daily life skills which students with intellectual disabilities need. Second, intellectual disability is considered too complex and disparate for a systematic approach of science delivery to be developed.

In contrast, I hypothesize that ongoing science delivery could exercise the observational, rational and logical skills that students with intellectual disabilities find most difficult, and which they require for achieving life skills. I developed multiple science programs, and conducted a series of case studies to investigate the short term and long term effects on high school students with moderate intellectual disabilities (that is, students aged between 12 and 18, who combine social and practical impairments with a tested IQ approximating between 40 and 70). The programs were delivered to 17 students, and data regarding the impact these programs had in their daily lives were collected from the students, their parents/guardians and their teachers at multiple intervals, over a timeframe of a year (74 total participants).

This paper discusses my systematic approach for delivering and evaluating science activities for students with intellectual disabilities. The method involves intricately guiding students through the step-by-step process of observation, logical enquiry and rational response. The results unanimously indicate that such an approach is both possible and beneficial for students with intellectual disabilities.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices