Autism-Friendly University

Dublin City University is working towards becoming Ireland’s first autism friendly campus through a collaboration between DCU, AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland (a specialist consultancy that recruits and supports people with Autism)

As DCU are well into the start of their 3 year journey as as an autism-friendly university, here is an update of the project, and what your university can do if they are interested in embarking this journey.

DCU’s designation of being autism friendly marks the conclusion of an 18- month research project, led by Dr Mary Rose along with AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland.

AsIAm worked closely with DCU to develop a series of Eight Principles that underpin the university’s purpose for its students with autism.

We are delighted that in March 2018, Dr.Cat Hughes was appointed as a full-time coordinator to drive the project over the next 3 years. Dr. Cat Hughes will implement and drive the principles, through actions that are applicable to DCU, their students, staff and the campus as a whole.

Is your University interested in becoming an AsIAm Autism Friendly approved university?

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.

In October 2018, the application process will open for third level institutions that wish to become AsIAm Approved Autism Friendly and go on the three-year journey with AsIAm.

The application will then be assessed by an independent Autism Friendly Accreditation Panel, who are all from the field of autism, education and inclusion.

Prior to the application being submitted your institution can:

  • Set up an internal steering group who will provide guidance to inform the application of the principles. The internal steering group will support and inform the work of the Autism Friendly Implementation Group.
  • The internal steering group is set up to discern the strategic direction the principles will take within their setting, and which actions need to take place for the principles to be achieved.
  • Set up a university wide implementation group who will design and implement the supports that are developed in line with the principles.
  • For further information contact katie@asiam.ie.

Principles of an Autism-Friendly University

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

Watch the video below to see how DCU are joining us on this exciting initiative to being AsIAm Autism Friendly.

However  people with Autism can find transition and change difficult and therefore, the transition to college – from a highly structured, controlled environment to an independent, adult world can be particularly challenging.

University presents an important opportunity for people with Autism to go on and access the jobs market, study a subject they are interested in and socialise through activities and special interests.

It is important, as we see more and more young people come through the school’s system with Autism, to explore the University experience of those currently enrolled, to identify key barriers and challenges and to explore how we can develop University as an “Autism-friendly” environment.

The work to date with DCU has involved conducting a campus wide survey, to all students, and focus groups with staff to capture their experiences, knowledge and attitudes about autism.

We are now working with the University to raise awareness and deliver training about Autism. This has included working with students to set up a society ‘Spectrum’ for students with autism, and their friends. We will be holding our ‘Autism Experience’ Exhibition in the helix and on the Saint Patrick’s campus, and deliver training to students and staff throughout March and April.

We hope that by identifying the key concerns and difficulties of students with Autism, to make a series of recommendations to the University to further meet the needs of students on campus. This will lead to an improved college experience for students with Autism in DCU.

This project was approved by the Government with support from the Dormant Accounts Fund.

Can this be improved? Contact webeditor@asiam.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.