AsIAm, Ireland’s National Autism Charity, has launched a new website to support autistic students starting college or resuming on-campus studies this September. The website has been funded by Rethink Ireland through the Innovate Together Fund.
One in 65 students in school in Ireland today have a diagnosis of autism and 86% of these young people attend mainstream schools. However specific barriers persist which can make attending college or university more challenging or overwhelming than it is for the majority of students.
To help combat this the new website provides practical resources and advice for new third-level students with autism, including videos with helpful tips from other students who have had the same experience, along with financial and budgeting advice, virtual tours and simple student recipes.
Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm said, “autistic people have a lot to offer and benefit from higher education. Many young people have special interests which lend themselves to studying a topic intensely at University, furthermore the chance to make friends with people who share your interests and learn in a more flexible way than is possible in school can be an exciting opportunity for many autistic students.”
“That said, often the barriers which prevent autistic people from choosing to attend or completing higher level studies come from non-academic challenges – navigating busy campus environments, managing workload and anxiety, communicating with peers and navigating complex university bureaucracy are just some examples of this.”
AsIAm has undertaken significant work in making the university experience more autism-friendly. In 2018, the charity launched the world’s first framework for Universities to achieve a whole of campus accreditation for autism-friendly practise, in partnership with Dublin City University who were the first higher level institution to implement the standard. Since then, the National College of Ireland has also been accredited and no less than five other institutions are working towards the recognition.
Harris continued, “in recent years we have seen first-hand the impact small changes can have on improving outcomes for autistic students in higher education.”
“Our Autism-Friendly Universities have seen third-level staff receive training in autism, specific calm spaces created on campuses and significant increases in the number of young people disclosing a diagnosis to university authorities and accessing support. COVID-19 has deepened many of the challenges which students will have to contend with – the transition to university may have not been as well planned due to the school closure periods during the pandemic and changes to the Leaving Cert process. Autistic students starting college may require further guidance.”
“Additionally, attending a much larger, socially intense environment after the lengthy lockdown period could lead to some students feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. We are delighted that working with Rethink Ireland we have been able to create in-depth, online toolkit to support students in making this transition.”
The website has been created in close partnership with autistic third level students and includes detailed advice and support to help autistic student navigate academic, social and student life in third level education.
The website includes videos of students answering common questions about life in college/university. A 360-degree video of a college campus allows visitors to explore a college environment in advance of their first day on campus whilst downloadable resources provide how-to guides for students living independently for the first time such as recipes and money management.