Despite increasing numbers of autistic people entering third-level education, the number of autistic students who complete their course is comparatively small. Furthermore, those who do graduate are likely to experience unemployment or underemployment. Cultivating an autism friendly environment on campus can go a long way towards alleviating these problems.
In 2018 Dublin City University (DCU) became the world’s first autism friendly university through a collaboration between DCU, AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland.
DCU’s designation as Autism Friendly marked the conclusion of an 18-month research project, led by Dr Mary Rose Sweeney (the summary of which can be read here.) Following this study, AsIAm worked closely with DCU to develop a series of eight principles (seen in the image to the left) that underpin the university’s purpose for its autistic students.
Since then, the college has implemented a number of initiatives under 8 principles that have made it as easy as possible for the autistic community to participate fully in all aspects of university life.
Dr. Fiona Earley was appointed in DCU as Autism Friendly University Coordinator to drive the project over the next three years by translating the eight principle into a series of actions which target DCU students, staff and campus.
Autism Friendly University Initiatives
In spring 2020, DCU launched 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
DCU are providing quiet spaces in the student union building and at events, such as Open Day for those who want to take some time away from the business of university life. ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.
DCU have three sensory pods that have been specially designed for students. Providing a more intimate, personalised environment than the quiet spaces, each pod lets students control their environment and take time out in a calming yet futuristic little space.
In the study mentioned above, autistic students who did NOT drop out cited college societies, particularly those that weren’t focused on alcohol or loud parties, as helping to provide a sense of belonging. DCU is proud to be the home of the world’s first Neurodivergent society. Set up by Laocín Brennan in 2019, the society is 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,
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.
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.
DCU has served as an excellent beta run of Autism Friendly Universities and while the college continues to develop, AsIAm has begun the process of assisting other colleges, Irish and abroad, to become part of this exciting new project. For more information on the Autism Friendly University Award, check below.
This project was approved by the Government of Ireland with support from the Dormant Accounts Fund.