Perspectives of Students With Disabilities and Their Parents on Influences and Barriers to Joining and Staying Extracurricular STEM Activities

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Journal of Special Education



Students with disabilities (SWDs) are less likely to establish themselves successfully in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. Researchers have identified barriers to participation in STEM, including deficits in mathematics and science, executive functioning skills, self-efficacy, and lack of exposure to STEM experiences. Researchers found students who participate in STEM clubs have higher grades in STEM content areas, have better attitudes toward school, and are more likely to graduate. This study aimed to understand student and parent perceptions about the influences and challenges to participation in STEM clubs. The researchers used a sequential explanatory mixed-methods design that began with a survey, followed by focus groups and interviews with parents and SWDs. We identified four salient meta-themes regarding what influences students to join and stay in a STEM club: fun and the subject matter, social and peer interactions, parent and teacher initiative, and a “semblance of normal.” In addition, we identified meta-themes on the barriers for SWDs to join and stay in STEM clubs. These include being a good fit, having no student interest, others not making accommodations, and overwhelmed parents. The researchers conclude with implications for educators to make STEM clubs more inclusive.