Evaluating the Performance of Physics Students on the Autistic Spectrum within HE




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Peer reviewed


Currently, a third of first year physics students at De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester, have declared that they have a disability. The majority of these students are on the autistic spectrum. How many more of the physics student cohort are also on the spectrum but have not declared it to the University or ever sought a diagnosis is unknown. A tangible consequence of the composition of the class is that classroom dynamics are different to other groups of comparable size and experience; we have an evidently intelligent, inquisitive group of students, however there are noticeable barriers and adjustments that need to be made in order to maximize the student learning and performance of the cohort.

At DMU, we are examining student performance as part of the University’s engagement with Universal Design for Learning (UDL). We are exploring how our learning materials are perceived by students, whether they are accessible and ultimately whether they adequately provide the necessary background for students to prepare for assessments. This research involves a detailed statistical analysis of how students perform at a per assessment level, for example comparing student performance data for those on the spectrum to the rest of the cohort. Assessment types include exams as well as specific coursework elements ranging from multiple choice phase tests (paper based and online), laboratory books, laboratory reports, presentations and group work. The aim of the research is to understand if students on the autistic spectrum perform significantly better or less well at any particular assessment type. Our research will include student focus groups to explore the reasons behind poor student performance in order to identify any specific obstacles encountered and to identify where we can adapt our resources to enhance future student performance and maximize retention and progression. This work may also give insights into how autistic students in other STEM subjects perform and lead to further studies in other subjects such as engineering and mathematics.


Funded by De Montfort University Teaching Innovation Project (TIP) funding


Physics, Autism, ASD, Student Performance


Bassford, M.L. & Snape, J. (2017) Evaluating the Performance of Physics Students on the Autistic Spectrum within HE, National Association of Disability Practitioners Annual Conference 2017.


Research Institute

Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development (IESD)