Special Needs

I have an autistic kid on my FLL team and I’m not really sure what to do with him. The kids don’t really like to work with him because he doesn’t listen very well and he has a stuttering kind of thing, which makes it really hard for the kids to want to listen to him.

I was thinking of coming up with a project just for him, but that would isolate him from the rest of the team and I don’t really want that.

I want to keep him involved I just don’t know how. If anyone has any experience with these sorts of dilemmas your help would be greatly appreciated.

Autism is on a spectrum - where is your student on that spectrum?

I’ve only worked with special needs individuals a little bit through the Best Buddies program, so I won’t pretend to be an expert. What I will say is THANK YOU for trying, THANK YOU for looking for advice, and GOOD LUCK on finding a good fit.

Also, don’t worry too much about it. My experiences turned out to be much easier and much more fun than I was expecting.

This is a challenge that presents many opportunities for all of you:
the team
It’s a great opportunity to work with diversity and different ways of thinking and expression. I’ve worked with many children with various special needs though I have no special training. Working with them as a mentor has opened up areas to explore and consider that otherwise would not present themselves. Though challenging and a little daunting, this opportunity can be a lot of fun and worthwhile as well.

There are many aspects of the FLL competition/team. Assigning one or two specific tasks to the student might help. Augment that with a special project that would be interesting and fuel the curiosity of his team mates. Curiosity can help people push through barriers and into exploration and friendship.

Good luck with this.

Edit: I just remembered that there was a presentation in Atlanta this past year concerning children with special needs .
The title of the presentation was Special Needs Children and FIRST Robotics Programs
It was presented by Pamela Greyer, NASA AEL/Chicago Public Schools.

If you contact FIRST, they may be able to provide further information regarding this presentation.

Here is the little abstract about the workshop:

**Special Needs Children and **
[LEFT]**FIRST Robotics Programs

Pamela Greyer, NASA AEL/Chicago Public Schools
[LEFT]The visual and hands-on nature of FIRST LEGO League robotics makes it a perfect fit for introducing
special needs students to world of robotics. In traditional team settings, these students are usually
excluded from participation based on behavioral issues or learning disabilities that could add an extra
burden on coaches and volunteers during the season. During the 2007 competition season, several
special needs students approached coaches and asked how they could become involved in the team.
These students were not considered for the team due to anger management issues, low grades, and
other learning problems. Research has found however that hands-on activities that involve them in
creative, explorative learning are more beneficial than traditional classroom learning strategies and
can also assist students with behavioral issues as well as becoming a motivational tool in increasing
skills in math and science. Another population, autistic children, can also benefit from building JFLL
models and increase individual independence with the guidance and assistance of special needs
teachers. How to build activities and a curriculum for special needs students around JFLL and FLL
robotics will be the focus of this presentation. Various techniques that have been used by the
workshop presenter in her work with special needs students in hands-on science programs will be
presented as well as a new initiative in the Chicago Public School District to provide inclusion of
special needs students in JFLL and FLL robotics in non-competitive as well as competitive environments.[/LEFT]



Unfortunately, there is no info onlineabout the presentation other than that, so as Jane mentioned contacting FIRST who could get you in contact with Pamela would be your best bet.

Some other relevant presentations over the years may be of interest as well. Those can be found here:
And here’s where I pulled the little abstract from about the particular one Jane mentioned from this past year:


Thank you, Elgin.


My name is Dorienne Plait. I am studying to be a special education teacher for middle/high school. I am not an expert on any level, but maybe I can offer advice.

  1. This is for everyone reading this thread and posting in it: please use person-first language when referring to students with special needs. For example, instead of saying “autistic student,” say “student with autism.” It puts the person before the diagnosis. You can read more about person-first language here.

  2. Talk with the special education teacher at the school. He/she will be able to help you understand the student a lot better. He/she will also be able to give you an idea as to what makes the student tick, and what behaviors he tends to exhibit. This will give you better insight on how to handle the student. Find out if the student likes working with others; what special tasks he enjoys; if the student likes science, math, or business; etc. Come up with a list of questions to ask the teacher.

  3. Sit down with the student and ask him what he would like to do on the team. Give him options; students with special needs really like having choices. It gives them the freedom to choose what they would most enjoy doing.

  4. Have a small meeting with the team, mentors, parents, etc. and give them a heads up on the student and what he suffers from. Give them basic information on autism, the type the student was diagnosed with, and explain to them the ways they can best communicate with and work with him. It will make all involved feel much more comfortable with the situation. Invite his parents to come along as well; ask them beforehand if they can give you insight on how to best involve and talk to the student. Maybe, if you ask, they will speak at the meeting and give you more information that will help.

If I come up with more ideas, I will post them. I hope these suggestions help you. :slight_smile:

In a robotics class I taught, one of the students had autism, and his ability to do the work spoke for itself and earned the respect of his classmates. They may not have been close or chummy, but they treated him respectfully and kindly.

Has the student demonstrated any ability in any area so far (even working alone)? You could explore his ability in traditional roles like building & programming, but also check out some other auxiliary roles like artwork, photography, internet exploration, computer design or other abilities related to the project, team t-shirts, and banner. It might help to ask his parents what he likes to do, what he’s good at, and why he joined the team.

Regarding the other members, handling them will depend a lot on their ages, as 9-year-olds will respond very differently than 14-year-olds to attempts to have them reach out to the student.

I don’t know what his level is on the autism spectrum.

This is a pilot year for FLL at this particular school so I don’t really know very much about the kids yet. I think I will definitely talk to his parents and teacher and find out what he likes and what he excells at.

I really just want to make sure I am doing everything I can as the coach to help him and his teammates succeed. If I come up with anything from FIRST or anything that works really well I’ll post it here.

Thanks for your help.


If you are looking for information on working with special needs students with robotics shoot me an email at pagreyer@cps.edu.

I presented on this topic at the FIRST Conference in Atlanta and I would be happy to share any information on this subject. Obviously the presentation did not get uploaded to the FIRST website but I can send it to anyone who is interested.