Accessing Supports In Higher Education

The transition from secondary school to third-level education is a huge jump, especially for those who are autistic and may need some extra support. As we transition through different educational settings, our needs change so in this article we hope to clarify the process of accessing support for you, so it seems a little less daunting.

All universities and colleges will have a designated service for people with disabilities. When you first start attending college you can register with Disability Services, every college will have a different process, but generally, if you have applied through DARE, you will be contacted to see what kind of support they can provide for you. Even if you have not applied through DARE, you can still contact the service at any time.

After contacting the disability service, they will ask you to fill out a form called an Evidence of Disability form, where you can mention your diagnosis and explain how it impacts your learning. A letter from your GP or your Local Health Officer may be necessary as medical evidence. If you have already applied through DARE, you will not need to provide medical evidence. All colleges and universities’ Disability Services have a very strict confidentiality policy so do not worry about giving your information to them.

During your orientation week, you may be asked to come in a week before other students, to meet with other students and your disability officer. Your disability officer will sit down with you and assess your needs so they can allocate proper support. It might help to go with a parent or guardian who knows you well as extra support to help you further elaborate on any needs you may have.

Support you may get can vary from exam support to learning support. Exam support may include doing your exams in a separate hall, headphones, a scribe or allowing you to use a laptop.

Learning support includes assistive technology to help you in lectures, access to a guidance counsellor, or occupational therapy.

You may also be offered a tour of the campus, meet other students using the service etc. This is a good opportunity to meet similar people, break the ice and build your confidence before the semester begins.

Disclosing your Diagnosis in College

Understandably, you may be a little hesitant to disclose it to your college due to past experiences or other circumstances. It is important to note that you are under no obligation to disclose your disability, however, it could be a way to enhance your student experience in your college or university.

Firstly, disability services in colleges have a strict confidentiality policy, this means that just because you tell them does not mean that it will be shared with everyone, only the information that you would like to be shared is shared.

Not disclosing can make it difficult to get the support you need. Meeting with the disability service will provide you with all the information you may need to access support, but disclosure is a necessary part of that process. When you meet your disability office in person, you will see that they are very professional and knowledgeable about their roles, which will help put a face on the people that will be helping you which could put you more at ease to disclose.

If you are comfortable and confident doing so, being open about your autism diagnosis can increase autism acceptance, and create an understanding of the barriers, misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding different neurotypes and disabilities. Self-empowerment is a great way to improve confidence and find people who are like you.

Remember that Universities and Colleges want to see all students succeed, this is also true for neurodivergent and disabled students.

Disclosing your Diagnosis to Peers at College

Deciding to disclose your diagnosis to your peers is a personal choice that only you should make. Remember there is no obligation to share anything about yourself, everyone has a right to their privacy. Keep in mind that both masking and disclosure can possibly have consequences. However, here are a few questions you can ask yourself before disclosing your diagnosis:

Do I want my peers to know?

You should only disclose if you are comfortable or confident doing so. No one should force you to disclose anything about yourself unless you are ready to do so. At the end of the day, your needs come first when meeting new people. Assess your levels of comfort with your diagnosis and use that to decide if it is something you would like the people around you to know.

Do I need them to know, such as them knowing your triggers, or if they need to know crucial medical information?

This question comes forward if it is necessary to tell the people around you because it will make your experience in college a much safer and nicer experience. Some autistic students like to tell people on a ‘need to know’ basis, if that works for you then that could be a good way to decide when to tell someone you are friends with.

Is it safe to share with this person?

Unfortunately, negative stigma towards disability can still exists, so it is understandable if you do not feel safe enough to disclose to your new friends in college yet. However, if you are certain this person is a person that you trust, and it is a genuine friendship then you could decide that it is safe to disclose.

If you do decide to disclose:

Be specific- everyone is different, so it is always a good idea to describe your experiences, needs and wants.

Feel prepared- you should feel safe and comfortable to disclose, make sure you have practiced what to say and you are in a setting where you feel at ease even if that means sending a text message or a phone call instead.

Student Unions, Clubs and Societies

Joining a student union, club or society is a great way to connect with your fellow peers who might have similar interests to you. There are huge benefits to joining a club or a society such as improving skills and learning new skills. You can even open your club or society if you have an idea!

Student Union

A Student Union is a representative body for all students who attend the college. The Student Union is a valuable resource for information on many issues such as accommodation, financial or welfare advice or awareness weeks. You can vote for Student Union officers, and even run for election yourself if you would like to. They also usually have social media so make sure to follow them for updates.

Clubs and Societies

There are different types of clubs and societies. Usually, they tend to be centered around sports, sci-fi, music, drama or around different subject matter. There are also action groups such as Amnesty, and St. Vincent De Paul and social support groups such as neurodivergent societies or societies for students with disabilities.

If you would like to get involved, you will need to register during the early weeks of the first term, there usually is a small fee to join. You can also in some cases apply online through clubs and societies’ websites.

Joining a neurodivergent or disability society would be a great way to meet people who can share the same experiences, it is a good way to make lasting friendships with others which can in turn enhance your college experience.

Here is a list of some of the neurodivergent societies in Ireland:

Dublin City University

University of Galway

Trinity College Dublin

Assistive Technology

When you first join the Disability and Learning Support service, there are several assistive technologies that you may be entitled to access. Assistive technology allows students with certain disabilities to be able to complete tasks they may have otherwise not been able to complete. Each piece of assistive technology has a specific purpose which helps with a specific study requirement depending on your disability. Using these technologies can help increase the quality of your learning, revision and retention of information. It is also a great way to help you focus and engage better with learning.

Once you register with the disability service, you will then be referred to the Assistive Technology Officer who will then assess your specific needs. They will then provide continuous training to make sure you are using it correctly and to make sure you are getting the most out of the resource.

Here are a few examples of assistive technology your college may have:

-Text-to-speech software (e.g., Claro Read)

-Voice recognition software (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking)

-Dictation software

-Recording software

– Screen reading/ Magnification software

– Adaptive keyboards and mice

– Grammar and Spelling software (e.g., Grammarly)

– Organisation Software (e.g., Mind42)

You will only be able to use these technologies throughout your studies and in some cases on certain equipment. If that is the case, you will be asked to sign a borrowing contract for the use of the equipment. There is no shame in using Assistive Technology, it can substantially enhance your experience in college and can help you keep up with fast-paced university learning.

Scroll to Top
Skip to content