The Autism&Uni project, led by Dr Marc Fabri at Leeds Beckett, launched in 2013 with the help of a €331,000 grant from the EU Lifelong Learning Programme. The three-year project brought together researchers from the UK, Finland, Spain, the Netherlands and Poland to establish what the needs are of students with autism going into higher education and what the potential barriers are to them succeeding.
Gathering the experiences and views of autism communities, academic communities and students across Europe, the researchers have now produced three guides. The guides highlight and promote examples of best practice in autism support in HE, aiming to improve the prospects and number of HE students on the autism spectrum.
Students on the autism spectrum are under-represented in higher education. Those who do embark on a university course can find the transition particularly challenging and do not complete their degree
Dr Marc Fabri, Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing, Creative Technologies and Engineering at Leeds Beckett, explained: “Students on the autism spectrum are under-represented in higher education. Those who do embark on a university course can find the transition particularly challenging and do not complete their degree. Typical challenges faced are unrealistic expectations of what HE study is like, social isolation, anxiety and depression. Receiving personalised support right from the start is critical and can make a huge difference to the student’s wellbeing and success in their studies.
“In our three guides, we cover the challenges typically encountered by autistic university students, explain the background to these and provide clear, practical tips for how professionals can adjust their own practice to better support students. Those autistic students who receive appropriate support in a timely manner thrive in higher education. Our guides aim to help students make the most of their time studying and living at university; and we strongly believe that a more inclusive environment for autistic students is likely to benefit the entire student body.”
The guides are aimed at three specific groups: HE managers and senior academics who can influence policy and practice in their institutions; lecturers and tutors who can benefit from practical tips for making their learning and teaching practices more accessible and inclusive; and professionals supporting autistic students within a university or as part of an outside organisation.
Last year, the Disability Assessment Centre at Leeds Beckett University began working in partnership with the National Autistic Society and have reviewed all of their processes and literature to make the Study Needs Assessment process as meaningful as possible for autistic students.
Kate Dean, Disability Assessment Centre Manager at Leeds Beckett, said: “We understand the importance of transition for all students coming to university, but particularly for autistic students. Our pilot scheme has allowed us to utilise the expertise of specialists within our sector to ensure we are able to offer the best possible service to students in a way that is meaningful for them. Enabling students to identify strategies that can be implemented independently not only allows the student to settle into their chosen area of study, but can also be enhanced throughout university and encourages transition pathways from university into employment.”
On Friday 18 March, the team held a conference aimed at improving the transition into university for autistic students, ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday 2 April 2016.
To download the guides, please go to https://www.autism-uni.org/bestpractice/.