Building Ecosystems of Belonging for Neurodiverse Computer Science Students

Computer science classes are neurodiverse, meaning that the way we teach and provide support needs to account for students with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other neurological differences. We are studying the effects of teacher training and digital badges on neurodiverse students’ sense of belonging in computer science programs.

On this page:

The Study

The University at Buffalo’s Open Education Lab is designing and testing neurodiversity micro-credentials to create an ecosystem of belonging in undergraduate computer science programs. Micro-credentials, similar to digital badges, are tools that can deliver bite-size curriculum and then both assess and verify learning for a given audience. In this case, students are the audience; this training is designed to increase instructor preparedness for teaching neurodiverse computer science students in undergraduate programs while presenting students with information about their instructors’ training through digital badges.

Neurodiversity refers to differences in cognition and brain development common to conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These students are often attracted to STEM career paths and possess traits that would make them valuable members of the United States’ computing workforce, but drop out before graduation when they encounter misaligned teaching practices or instructors who discourage accommodations and supports for students with invisible disabilities.

These micro-credentials are designed to give instructors the training they need to be able to transform their practice for neurodiverse undergraduate computer science students, as well as providing students with opportunities to identify trained instructors.

In a process guided by the Universal Design for Learning framework, which is used to create educational interventions that will meet the needs of as many students as possible, the project consists of two major components. The curriculum for the training is comprised of prior, piloted ADHD training course for teachers and additional evidence-based strategies for improving educational success among diverse computer science students. The digital badges (micro-credentials) are co-designed with students and faculty to design a system of delivering curriculum to instructors and displaying instructor training to students.

As instructors complete courses, badges display instructor preparation and willingness to learn about student needs directly to students. This allows students to identify instructors who will be safe to talk to about their needs and trained to support them, whether choosing mentors or making class selections. Micro-credentials are evaluated at multiple stages of the co-design and implementation process to iterate on the design. Information on the micro-credentials and curriculum will be published here under project updates and resources as they are completed.

This study will take place in University at Buffalo’s Computer Science department. This project is made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation’s program for Broadening Participation in Computing. More information about the award can be found on the NSF Award page.

Our Research Team

Headshot of Samuel Abramovich.


Sam Abramovich is the director of the University at Buffalo’s Open Education Research Lab, which conducts research on the impact of open education technologies and resources in higher education organizations, including both 2-year and 4-year institutions. He is also the lead researcher for the University at Buffalo’s Office of Micro-credentials.

Headshot of Adrienne Decker.

Adrienne Decker, PhD


Adrienne Decker is a faculty member in the Department of Engineering Education and Computer Science and Engineering at the University at Buffalo. Active in the computing education community, she is currently the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education board chair (2019–22), and has served as the AP Computer Science development committee co-chair as well other conference committees, review panels and editorial boards. Her research interests are focused on student learning, including the improvement of teaching methods, engagement practices and assessment techniques.

Headshot of Rachel Bonnette.

Rachel Bonnette, PhD

Project Coordinator

Rachel Bonnette is a learning scientist and postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Learning and Instruction at the University of Buffalo. Her research focus is on transforming neurodiverse learning in STEM using a social model of disability as a lens for examining current practices and new interventions. Her prior published work includes both in- and out-of-school learning, including young adult learning in makerspace communities of practice and factors that influence middle school students’ science fascination.

Headshot of Gregory Fabiano.


Greg Fabiano, consultant on the grant, is a clinical psychologist from Florida International University with expertise in developing interventions and supports for individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder across the lifespan.  He has over 100 published works, two books, and continuous extramural funding since 2006 all focused on developing strategies to help individuals with ADHD reduce impairments and build skills in important areas of daily life functioning.

Project Updates

Updates for this project will be added here as the research progresses.

In the News: October 2021


Resources, such as course materials and publications, will be linked or attached here for access as they become available.

Teaching Elementary Students with ADHD
The micro-credential training will be based partly on an existing MOOC by Dr. Fabiano. This original training focuses on teaching elementary students with ADHD and is available on Coursera.