In 2018 Dublin City University (DCU) became the world’s first autism friendly university through a collaboration between DCU, AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland (a specialist consultancy that recruits and supports people with Autism).
DCU’s designation as Autism Friendly marked the conclusion of an 18-month research project, led by Dr Mary Rose along with AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland. To read the full Executive Summary Report, click here.
Following the research study, AsIAm worked closely with DCU to develop a series of eight principles that underpin the university’s purpose for its autistic students (which you can read below).
Fiona Earley, is DCU’s full-time Autism Friendly University Co-ordinator. Fiona was appointed in DCU to drive the project over the next three years. Fiona implements the principles, through 43 actions that are applicable to DCU, their students, staff and the campus as a whole. To find out more about how the AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award has been implemented in DCU click here.
Since DCU’s designation as an Autism Friendly University by AsIAm, DCU have implemented many initiatives under the 8 principles that have made it as easy as possible for the autistic community to participate fully in all aspects of university life.
Some examples of the inclusive actions that have taken place to date in DCU:
Autism&Uni Toolkit – In spring 2020, DCU will launch the Autism&Uni toolkit. This website will support students during the critical transition period from applying to university through to arriving and settling in. The website includes videos and blogs from staff and students and will provide guidance and information for students transitioning into DCU. To read our blog on the Autism&Uni Toolkit website, please click here
Sensory Pod – DCU have three sensory pods that have been specially designed for students. Each pod lets students control their environment and take time out in a calming yet futuristic little space.
Quiet spaces- DCU are providing quiet spaces in the student U building and at events, such as Open Day for those who want to take some time away from the busyness of university life.
Students in DCU have founded a Neurodivergent Society for students who are, for example; autistic, dyspraxic, dyslexic or/and have mental health challenges. They are the first society of their kind across Europe. This society aims to provide a sense of community where everybody is accepted and supported for who they are. The Neurodivergent society host events such as movie nights and writing workshops. You can follow them on instagram @neurodivergentsocdcu or like their page on facebook,
Training for all: DCU have worked on developing understanding and acceptance within the University for everyone, this has included in depth training programme in partnership with AsIAm and specialists in the area of autism.
Employment: DCU and Specialisterne Ireland
Specialisterne Ireland is a not-for-profit recruitment consultancy funded by Ability that promotes employment for people on the autism spectrum and similar challenges. Many individuals on the autism spectrum struggle with interviews and benefit from a step by step approach to the interview process used by current employers.
Specialisterne Ireland provides an intensive interview skills programme with individualised assessment, CV preparation, and interview training at no cost to the student. Specialisterne work with undergraduate students for a weekly forty-minute slot over six weeks. They provide guidance on workplace etiquette and the corporate environment. They help build up personalised competency-based interview answers that reflect your experience and provide mock interviews to prepare. After the internship Specialisterne work with the student to incorporate their new relevant experiences into their interview answers when job seeking on graduation.
Is your University interested in gaining an AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award?
We are currently working with Irish and International Universities who are working towards the AsIAm Autism University Award and invite HEI’s are interested in learning more about the award to get in touch.
Universities which attain AsIAm 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.
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?
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about HEI’s gaining the AsIAm Autism Friendly University Award.
Below are the 2 stages of the application process.
- The University requests the application form from email@example.com 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:
- Return the completed application form to AsIAm
- The institution must already have autistic students enrolled.
- The university must offer degree programmes to students.
- There must be a pre-existing disability support officer in place (or an equivalent staff member who has specific responsibility and training).
- 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.
This project was approved by the Government of Ireland with support from the Dormant Accounts Fund.