This user-led project funded by the Centre for Learning and Academic Development and Learning Spaces (CLAD) recruited students and alumni on the autistic spectrum (‘student group’) to consult with their peers and alumni from the University of Birmingham via one to one interviews and focus groups. As Project Assistants, they were involved in all aspects of the project, from designing interview schedules and analysing data to reporting on the project findings. As well as the resource, the project produced a summary report of findings available here and a set of recommendations, copied below:

1.  Recommendations

 

Our findings indicate some recommendations that are specific to the needs of autistic students. However, many recommendations have broader relevance and so these are reported first, as points to consider for an Inclusive Curriculum/Universal Design approach that seeks to benefit a diverse student group.

 

 RECOMMENDATIONS SPECIFIC TO AUTISTIC STUDENTS 
1 Many issues relating to autistic students are common to other student groups.
2 Autistic students are likely to have experienced late diagnosis and so disclosure itself may be a complex issue.
3 Significant numbers of autistic students have additional mental health/anxiety needs which should be specifically considered.
4 Autistic students are more likely to be disadvantaged or marginalised in other ways.
5 Autistic students are not just autistic students – they have lives and experiences that go beyond ‘being autistic’.
6 Autistic students are likely to be socially anxious but will want similar social opportunities to their non-autistic peers and this is important for good mental health – holistic support is key to this.
7 The mentor role is a fundamental ‘interpreter’ role, enabling students to understand the many systems at play within higher education and manage its demands effectively.
8 Small anxieties can grow into insurmountable problems. A preventative approach, putting small changes in place early on, is most successful and also most cost-effective.
9 Autistic students often put unreasonable pressure on themselves, so support to understand expectations (e.g. Interpreting reading lists and assessment protocols) can mediate this.

 

INCLUSIVE CURRICULUM RECOMMENDATIONS 
1 Importance of clarity of communication – uncertainty is a primary cause of anxiety. Communication needs to be more consistent, led by systems rather than individuals. Ensure the effective sharing and use of Reasonable Adjustment Plan (RAP) information.
2 Students tend to be passive and ill-informed about their rights and responsibilities when they disclose. Better support to understand the systems would result in better use of them by students.
3 Need for support and to anticipate and respond to students’ needs from start of the course and beyond – transitions into, and out of, the University.
4 A need for accessible environments – acoustics, lighting, noise, regularity, use of floor plans, not just ‘wheelchair accessible’ environments.
5 Anticipate the needs of students – ‘check-in’ with students as those struggling the most may not be able to flag it up.
6 Recognition of students’ diverse ways of learning and consequently a need to respond with diverse methods of assessment.
7 Participatory consultation with hard-to-reach groups requires careful planning and resourcing. However, the benefits include a more accessible model of consultation and important opportunities for networking and development of skills for the student participants.
8 Distance and part-time students have different experiences and needs and tend to be more isolated than full-time campus students.
9 Being a student with additional needs within higher education causes the student extra workload to get support set up and extra stress in ensuring this is managed. The sector needs to find ways to minimise this workload.
10 Recognition that an inclusive approach benefits a range of needs reflected in the UoB student population, including not just students with additional needs, but also students with different cultural/linguistic backgrounds.

The AuVision team

Project Lead: Andrea MacLeod
Student Coordinator: Caroline Lear
Inclusive Curriculum Coordinator: Liz Ellis
Project Assistants: Callum Duckworth; David Irvine; Harry Jones; Michaela King; Marianthi Kourti; Jessica Ling; Ken Searle; John Simpson
With thanks to Callum Duckworth and Vicki Taylor for artwork and all participants for giving their time to the project.

Contact us
Project Lead
Dr Andrea MacLeod
Email: a.g.macleod@bham.ac.uk
Tel: (0121) 415 8442