Accessing college or higher education can be a stressful process for autistic students, but there are plenty of supports to help you on your way. This page outlines key steps you can take to help you on your journey to college.

Making Your CAO Application

Applying to the CAO can be a difficult and overwhelming time, this is especially true for those with disabilities. Understanding the CAO process will help eliminate any confusion surrounding the CAO and will help the process seem a lot less daunting. CAO (Central Applications Office) is where every student applies if they would like to consider a place in college in Ireland. You are not obligated to disclose your disability but keep in mind that if you need support, colleges have a legal responsibility to support students and not discriminate, in other words disclosing your disability will not affect your CAO outcomes.

For students with disabilities, there are a few extra steps needed to ensure you can get all the support you need in accessing college application, including students who are autistic. You can apply for your CAO online, which is where you can access the CAO handbook. This handbook has all the information about the standard application process. In this article, we can focus on the sections relevant to disability.

Once you have applied online, you can go on to inform the CAO of your disability you wish to disclose by

1- Scrolling down on your home screen, find the ‘Modify Disability/SLD status’ and then click Yes on the ‘Disability/Specific Learning Difficulty?’ question.

2- Once you have done that you should find that the text under the Disability section has changed. From here we can click on the Supplementary Information Form as shown below. Here you can provide in-depth information and medical information to verify your disability, this will be used to consider you for reduced points entry to a selection of colleges.

Supplementary Info Form

Section A.

Question One- Here you can say whether you would like to be considered for the DARE scheme, which you can learn more about here. Dare allows you access to a selection of HEIs (Higher Education Institutes) with the possibility of a reduced points entry. If you wish to be considered for DARE, you must answer yes to question 1 on the fully completed SIF by 5 p.m. on 1 March 2024.

Questions Two & Three- Here you can specify your disability, and if applicable other disabilities you may have. The one that you feel has the most impact on your education should be the primary one stated.

Question Four- In this question, you specify what kind of support you acquired at the second level, and what support you think you might need in the third level. For more support information, you can receive in third-level click here.

Question Five- This section is the personal statement, this is only filled out if you are not applying for DARE, as it will be information you will cover in the Educational Impact Statement.

However, if you are not applying for DARE, use this section to describe how your disability has impacted your education on a day-to-day basis, whether it be missing school, deadlines, poor concentration, sensory overload etc.

Section B- Educational Impact Statement

This section of the SIF can be completed by your school and returned to CAO by the 15th of March 2024. The staff member in your school, whether it be a teacher, guidance counsellor or principal, should have a good level of knowledge about your school experience such as the support that you have received.

Section C- Evidence of Disability

An appropriate medical professional completes this section, or a report that is up to date verifying your disability, this also must be completed by the 15th of March 2024.

Accessing College Through the DARE Route

DARE is a third-level alternative admissions scheme for school leavers whose disabilities have had a negative impact on their second-level education. DARE offers reduced points places to school leavers with disabilities wishing to access their chosen college, including autistic school leavers. There are only a select number of colleges that accept DARE, you can find the list of colleges that avail of the DARE system in the DARE CAO handbook

You can apply for DARE if you are under the age of 23 as of January and if you have a diagnosis of any of the following:

• Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

• Autism

• Blind/Vision Impaired

• Deaf/Hard of Hearing

• Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (DCD) – Dyspraxia

• Dyslexia/ Significant Literacy Difficulties

• Dyscalculia/ Significant Numeracy Difficulties

• Mental Health Condition

• Neurological Condition (including Brain Injury and Epilepsy)

• Physical Disability

• Significant Ongoing Illness

• Speech and Language Communication Disorder

A reduced points offer would be where the Leaving Cert points for a course which may be 400 points may be offered to you for 390. You will still need to meet all the minimum requirements needed for different courses. The number of DARE places available depends on several things such as the overall available places on the course, the number of reserved DARE places on the course, and the number of DARE applicants that apply.

For more in-depth information about the DARE application read through the DARE handbook here

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