Why should third level Institutions become Autism Friendly?
Across third level education, both in Ireland and internationally, an increasing number of higher education places are sought and accepted by students on the autism spectrum. This number is continually growing. (Barnhill, 2016)
Despite this increase in student enrollment, only a small number of autistic students complete their education. (Levy and Perry,2011)
How do access barriers affect autistic students in Third level education?
Some areas that can be challenging for autistic students are:
- The transition into third level education
- The social and physical environment
- Academic challenges
- Accessing the correct supports
- Misconceptions and stigma associated with autism
- Gaining and transitioning into employment
How can a Third Level Institution break these barriers down?
The research conducted in Dublin City University (DCU) revealed that there are pockets of activity in relation to creating an autism friendly environment within many Higher Education Institutes in the USA and the UK. (Sweeny, M.R et al., 2018)
Within Ireland, HEI’s are now placing a greater emphasis on ensuring that autistic students have access to more general and specific student support services. There is now an increased recognition that autistic students need and benefit from supports that compliment the standard services offered.
To support universities who wish to create this learning environment, AsIAm have developed the AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award, which provides a common understanding and good practice in Third Level institutions who teach autistic students. It is drawn on a range of evaluations, policy guidelines and best practice from Ireland, the UK and internationally.
Universities which attain Autism-Friendly Status are understanding of the needs of Autistic students, open to making adaptations to be more accessible and have a positive, celebratory culture towards Autism. These Universities will not only ensure autistic students can thrive while studying but also serve as a springboard to employment opportunities after study.
How can your Third Level Institution receive an AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award?
- The University requests the application form from firstname.lastname@example.org and then submits the application form to AsIAm. This also includes a resource pack with supporting documents.
- The application is then reviewed by the Autism Friendly University Accreditation Panel. Once the Accreditation Panel has reviewed the application, the University will be notified that they can begin stage 2.
- The University will then be given a 9-month timeframe to implement Stage 2. Once the below actions are completed, the third level institution will be awarded the AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award.
- The University needs to design and submit the Autism Friendly University action plan. The action plan will demonstrate how the organisation will implement the principles over a 3-year time frame. The action plan should present prioritised actions to address the issues identified in the application form.
- The University will need to provide evidence that an internal steering group is set up. The internal steering group will provide guidance to inform the application of the principles within your institution.
- The University will need to provide evidence that the University has conducted a focus group interview with staff. (Resource pack with templates are provided to universities)
- The University will need to provide evidence that the University has conducted a Sensory Audit of the university environment.
- The University will need to provide evidence that the University has undertaken a survey of the student population to find out the needs of autistic students.
- The University will be asked to sign a contract of engagement with AsIAm, outlining the agreement that the university will cooperate with AsIAm on the delivery of the AsIAm Autism Friendly University.
Eligibility for Third Level Institutes to apply for the AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award
For a University to be eligible to apply for the AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award, higher education institutions must:
1. Return the completed application form to AsIAm
2. The institution must already have autistic students enrolled.
3. The university must offer degree programmes to students.
4. There must be a pre-existing disability support officer in place (or an equivalent staff member who has specific responsibility and training).
5. Demonstrate allocation of resources to the initiative to ensure its success. This includes details of whether an Autism Friendly University Coordinator role will be allocated, or how many staff hours will be allocated to the initiative.