Autism Journal Club

Reflection on the L&T conference workshop:How might we create an autism-enabling environment at the University of Glasgow?

Dr David Simmons and Ute Barett will share their impressions and reflections from the workshop they conducted at the Annual Learning and Teaching Conference titled: How might we create an autism-enabling environment at the University of Glasgow? Workshop Abstract: Autism* is a neuro-developmental condition affecting over 1% of the general population. Of the thousands of children with autism transitioning into adulthood over the next decade, it is expected that approximately 45% of these people will enrol in post-secondary qualifications (Newman et al, 2011). However, the likelihood of studying to completion for autistic students is lower (38.8%) than both the general student population (52.4%), and other students with disabilities (40.7%; Newman et al, 2011). Studying at University, from the initial application through to graduation, is a daunting prospect for many people. But, in an environment with new academic challenges, a number of non-academic challenges and barriers faced by autistic students are likely to be more disruptive, and a significant cause of this completion discrepancy. Autistic individuals tend to struggle with the demands of social interaction and crowded places and also tend to be highly sensitive to everyday sensory stimulation, such as the food smells of a canteen or flickering fluorescent lighting (Robertson & Simmons, 2015). In addition to sensory stressors, they are known to be prone to high levels of anxiety, difficulties with planning and organisation and vulnerable to disruptions of routine adherence (Volkmar et al, 2017). It is therefore unsurprising that individuals with autism struggle to cope at University. This is despite often having academic skills that are equal, or even superior, to their neurotypical peers. In this workshop we will critically examine the student lifecycle from the perspective of autistic students, with the aim of raising staff awareness and understanding of the experience of autistic students. The workshop will review published research on how to make university environments “autism enabling”, report recent research on student experiences at the University of Glasgow and include testimonies from autistic students. There will then be time for the audience to reflect on their own teaching practice and how they might change it to accommodate the needs and strengths of autistic students better. This will be achieved through facilitated round-table discussion with the presentation team. *Correct terms for describing the conditions formally called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are controversial. Here, “autism” is shorthand for ASD, covering also Asperger’s Syndrome/Disorder, Childhood Autism/Autistic Disorder and PDD-NOS.