DCU Launches First Ever Autism-Friendly Campus

Dublin City University was recognised as the world’s first autism-friendly university by AsIAm today.

The designation marks the conclusion of an 18- month research project, led by Dr Mary Rose Sweeney in collaboration with Professor Teresa Burke DCU School of Nursing and Human Sciences along with AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland, a specialist recruitment and support agency for autistic individuals.

Research findings by DCU show that autistic students in third-level often experience greater levels of difficulty settling in and adapting to university life than do their peers. Frequently cited issues were discomfort in noisy environments; difficulties in managing schedules, deadlines and workload, challenges in participating in group work and unease in new social situations and extracurricular activities. Loneliness and anxiety also featured strongly.

To achieve the autism-friendly university designation from AsIAm, a university must address eight generic principles that were established as part of the research study.

AsIAm has worked closely with DCU and a number of different stakeholders within Ireland’s autism community to develop a series of Eight Principles underpinning the campus’ purpose for its students. These are to:

  • Encourage and enable autistic students to transition and participate in university programmes;
  • Support and build capacity to equip autistic students to meet the academic challenges of everyday university life;
  • Support and build capacity to equip autistic students to meet the social challenges of everyday university life;
  • Seek to establish an autism-friendly operational environment;
  • Seek to combat the stigma around autism and recognise the diverse experiences of those with the condition;
  • Develop understanding and relevant knowledge and skills within the university community;
  • Establish channels so that autistic students can have a voice in various aspects of university life;
  • Increase the employability of autistic graduates through a range of initiatives that will develop their soft-skills to support their transition beyond university.

A series of actions have been developed in tandem to help actualise these principles into action, including:

  • Aiming to ensure that its staff, schools, services and on-campus supports receive a short training programme on autism-awareness from the DLSS at the beginning of each term;
  • DCU will hold an annual Autism Inclusion Day on campus;
  • DCU’s Library Service will add an autism-specific element to their orientation programme to support autistic students with different sensory processing needs;
  • Develop guidelines for its academic staff to empower them to support autistic students to reach their full potential;
  • The Estates Office will ensure that DCU Student Accommodation is suitable for autistic students, with a minimum of twenty beds, if required;
  • Establishing a number of designated ‘quiet spaces’ in a number of locations throughout the university;
  • DCU Researchers will develop a ‘DCU Campus Map App,’ to help autistic students navigate their way around the university;
  • A network of ‘Student Champions’ will be developed for students on the spectrum to support them and the autism-friendly campus initiative;
  • Support the establishment of an ‘Autism Society’ to provide a safe space for autistic students and their friends.

Commenting on the designation Prof Brian MacCraith, President of Dublin City University said that “The designation of DCU as the world’s first Autism-Friendly University is a key milestone for the University and is an important recognition of our commitment to educational opportunity and to social inclusion. In particular, it reflects DCU’s core commitment to provide opportunities and a supportive environment to groups that are under-represented in our education system.

“In establishing the concept and underpinning principles of an Autism-Friendly University in conjunction with AsIAm, we hope to provide the blueprint for others to follow and that this will become a global movement. At DCU our commitment is to create an environment which helps students with Autism to flourish educationally and socially and to significantly enhance their employability. We know that this will mean a lot to students with Autism and to their parents.”

Adam Harris, CEO AsIAm said “We warmly congratulate DCU on achieving AsIAm Autism-Friendly University Status. Today’s announcement is a timely one. As we see more young Autistic people come out of the school system it is vital that higher education and indeed the adult world become more accessible and inclusive of the Autism community. 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. Working with our partners in Specialisterne Ireland, it has been a pleasure to embark on this journey with DCU. We are excited to see the implementation of their exciting plan over the next three years and indeed to see many more universities join the ranks as Autism-friendly institutions.”

Dr Mary Rose Sweeney, School of Nursing and Human Sciences, Principal Investigator and Project Lead, Autism Friendly University, DCU said that “This whole of university initiative, which provides additional supports to students with Autism and increases knowledge and awareness of Autism amongst academics, support staff, and the general student body, will enhance the experiences of students with Autism while at DCU and help them to transition successfully to employment or further studies.”

You can check out our promotional video for the day’s event today here http://https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-eHXki-EcJw

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