Project develops quality online resources to help autistic students transition smoothly into third-level
A programme supporting young autistic students entering third level education for the first time has received €50,000 in funding from Rethink Ireland, the state-funded body which supports innovative charities, social enterprises, and community organisation.
The funding has been given to the Transition to Higher Education project developed by AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity, and is developing quality online resources to help autistic students transition smoothly into third-level. It includes specialised online learning tools developed to prepare them for college life, as well as building day-to-day living skills. While autistic people often face challenges entering third-level education, the need is particularly great in the context of the Covid 19 pandemic.
“This support from Rethink Ireland is particularly important for us as members of our community prepare for the challenges of third level of education” according to Adam Harris, the CEO of AsIAm. “Adapting to self-directed learning, dealing with a new environment and possibly living away from home are challenging for many students but are particularly daunting for autistic students.”
This is one of 51 projects being supported by Rethink Ireland’s Innovate Together. As well as developing quality online resources to help autistic students transition into third-level, it includes specialised online learning tools developed to prepare them for college life, as well as building day-to-day living skills.
“This is particularly challenging in light of the pandemic’s effect on students over the last number of months”, said Mr Harris. “The uncertainty resulting from the unprecedented Leaving Cert process, as well as the CAO fallout has had a serious effect on Ireland’s young people, particularly those in the autistic community.
“Young community members will have to reckon with the academic challenges of adapting to new, self-directed forms of learning such as tutorials, laboratory sessions and essays. Meanwhile, important extracurricular aspects of college life may be intimidating to students, especially for those of the autistic community. Finally, for those who are moving away from home, the challenges of caring for themselves in areas such as washing, cooking and navigating to campus can be a big shock.”
These challenges were formidable even before this year. However, with the recent uncertainty and disruption caused by COVID-19, students face additional difficulties. Structure and predictability are foremost among the most fundamental support needs for autistic people, meaning learning and adaptation to campus life will be seriously disrupted.
Mr Harris continued: “This is where the Autism Friendly Transition to Higher Education project will be most beneficial. Specially developed online resources will help all autistic students as they enter third-level institutes nationwide, across the areas of Academic life, College life, and Self-Management. The resources will be diverse and across multiple forms of media to reflect the varied needs and learning styles of the new students. The project team will draw on the experience of autistic students, hearing how they coped with first year. For strong visual thinkers, there will be 360 virtual videos of campuses, lecture halls and recreational facilities. For the crucial area of supports, there will be guides on self-advocacy and how to navigate disability services in college.”
The elements of the programme will be created in consultation with the both the autistic and academic communities to provide up-to-date information in this uncertain time. The project will ultimately facilitate and support a smooth transition to college. By project completion, the project team will have formed an online toolkit that higher education institutes nationwide can access, share information, and draw on-each other’s experience to help create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all autistic students.