Autism is a developmental condition that affects how one understands, relates to, and communicates with, other people, and the world. Common traits among autistic people include difficulty with communication and socialising, repetitive behaviours and heightened sensory perception. These characteristics make it more difficult to meet the everyday academic and social challenges of university life.
Over the past 20 years, children with autism have increasingly entered mainstream schools, and this ‘peak cohort’ is now moving on to third level. At DCU, we realised that universities needed to be better prepared to meet their needs. Since 2016, when we first collaborated with AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity, on research to identify barriers faced by autistic students in higher education, we have been proud to lead the way in creating a university environment where autistic students are understood, accepted and supported to reach their personal potential.
Shows that ordinary university situations cause increased stress, anxiety and sensory overload for autistic students, from lectures and group work to canteens and social events.
Plans for Phase 2 will include research on the successes and challenges of Phase 1 to help other universities follow in our footsteps and roll-out of a network of Escape Spaces across campus, following recommendations from the Autism Friendly University Design Guide.