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4 Ways to Improve the University Experience for Students with ASD

Students go to university and college to learn academically. But they also do much more during their time there.

They make social connections, find out about themselves, and network with people they could one day work with. Some of them even live on campus.

Making the entire university experience valuable for all students can be a challenging task. Everything from lectures, to online learning platforms, to housing, needs to be part of the picture.

When a student has ASD

When it comes to students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD), the challenges of university and college are multiplied. Creating and sustaining a positive learning environment that ensures academic success can be difficult. And understanding that fellow students are also trying to establish themselves and build relationships can be a challenge too.

And these barriers can be magnified again as students study from home during COVID-19 isolation.

Universities and colleges are becoming more aware of these access obstacles and are establishing ‘buddy’ schemes to help students with ASD through this time when social access is vital.

Here are some of the biggest challenges to providing access to students with ASD, and proposed solutions to those challenges.

1. Providing access to classroom content

Everyone learns in their own way. This is no different for students with ASD.

Many students with ASD will have no problem with course content. Their academic grasp of the subject matter could be strong. But there are other factors that might impact their access to classroom content.

For some, there are difficulties in audio processing, so a service such as live captioning might help them to focus and support their understanding.

For others, it might be that the information processing time is longer, so a fast-paced environment won’t be suitable.

And for many students with ASD, there is simply too much information to absorb. It might be easier for them to access information via note-taking, so they can record key issues and instructions.

Lecturers need to be aware of additional student requirements so that they can ensure their class material is as accessible as possible.

2. Fostering independence

Many students might have had previous educational experiences and home living situations that provided a structured environment.

Such environments are more comfortable for people with ASD. Living at home, with a fixed schedule and support and guidance from family and teachers can build confidence.

However, it does not necessarily prepare someone for the experience of independent living and self-management needed in a university or college environment. This can lead to problems.

It is important to provide assistance to students with ASD going through this transition, and it is here that ‘buddy schemes’ can play a further part.

3. Addressing isolation, and ‘buddy’ schemes

One of the greatest issues faced by students with an ASD is isolation, and the possibility of depression resulting from this.

Generally, people with ASD will not have the same social skills as their peers. This can lead to exclusion from their peer group, which might cause them to feel anxious or depressed.

Students with ASD might find themselves initially courted but then rejected by evolving social groups, because of the difficulties they face with social interaction and social understanding.

One way to ensure that students with ASD are not suffering from isolation is implementing a ‘buddy scheme’.

In a buddy scheme, another student will act as a buddy to the student with ASD, making sure they are understood, enjoying the university experience and getting along with their studies. They also provide an outlet for communication.

While this is not the usual route to friendship, it can open doors to potential friendships with other students, with the buddy can act as a social ‘bridge’ for the student.

An important consideration with a buddy scheme, for both the student with an ASD and the buddy, is to set expectations clearly, so that the student with autism does not become too attached or too reliant on their buddy.

A short training scheme for potential buddies to understand the nature of ASD and the boundaries in which to operate can play a vital part in the success of the scheme. This will reduce the impact in the event of the buddy completing studies, deciding not to be a part of the buddy scheme any longer, or leaving the university or college. Changing buddies on a semi-regular basis can be a good idea.

4. Managing responses to the unpredictability of student life

Life at university and college can be much less predictable than high school.

It can be chaotic, and clashing course commitments can cause anxiety in many students, especially those whose anxiety levels are already high.

Anxiety can be reduced around unpredictability by ensuring the student has their schedule of classes and assignments organized at the beginning of the semester.

Buddies can help to support with any unpredictable changes, especially if they are in the same course.

Conducting regular reviews of course schedules is a useful way of ensuring that minor issues are resolved at the onset.

It is also vital that students with ASD know who they should come to with any issues.

Compared to the overall drop-out rate of university and college students, there is a much greater prevalence among students with ASD.

If we are to ensure that people with an ASD have the chance to participate fully in the workforce, supporting them to successfully navigate university and achieve their degree is a great start.

Simple Text Captions for students with ASD

As part of our CART live captions services, Ai-Media offers live captions in a simple text format which removes figurative and metaphorical language, and includes formatting to support comprehension for a variety of learning styles.

If you would like more information on captioning and other accessibility services, visit the Ai-Media website or get in touch with our friendly team.

For more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder, you can visit The Autism Society website.


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