Date of Award

May 2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Computer Science

First Advisor

Christine Cheng

Committee Members

Susan Mcroy, Wilkistar Otieno

Abstract

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a neurodevelopmental disorder, is characterized by significant impairments in social communication and interaction. Theories regarding the cognitive development of ASD individuals suggest that high-functioning individuals are adept at analyzing and constructing systems so they may find STEM occupations more appealing. Researchers found that young adults with ASD in STEM fields were more likely to concentrate be science or computer science majors in college than the general population. In 2001, Baron-Cohen et al. published the seminal paper on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), a self-administered questionnaire that measures autistic traits in adults. In the paper, they established that there is a significant difference between the AQ scores of high functioning autistic adults and adults of the normal population (35 vs. 16.4). Subsequent studies have confirmed the result. Interestingly, among Cambridge University students that Baron-Cohen et al. recruited, Math and Computer Science majors had the highest AQ scores (21.5 for Math majors, 21.1 for CS majors and 17.6 for all university students). In this thesis, we explored the findings about Computer Science majors further. Part of our motivation stems from research that shows high-functioning autistic young adults tend to pursue STEM majors. Moreover, among those who majored in STEM fields, Computer Science was the top choice. We recruited UW-Milwaukee students enrolled in Computer Science 250 (CS 250) the Introduction to Programming class, and Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering (CE) majors who have applied for graduation in Spring 2020 and Fall 2020. All students were asked to answer the AQ and their AQ scores were compared to their grades. Our results are as follows. The average AQ score among all the participants is 23.04, which was comparable to Baron-Cohen et. al.’s findings. The beginner CS students average AQ score is 22.8 while that of the graduating students is slightly higher at 23.8. There was no significant difference between the AQ scores of males and females. We observed no correlation between AQ scores and CS 250 class grades. On the other hand, the AQ scores of graduating students has a weak positive correlation to their CS-GPA (GPA of their required CS classes).

Available for download on Friday, December 03, 2021

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