Understanding and supporting students on the Autism

Understanding and supporting
students on the Autism Spectrum
Student Support Services
Fred Postles and Hilary Haigh
[email protected]
0115 848 2085
Session outline
1. Introduction to Autism Support at NTU
2. A brief description of Autism Spectrum
Conditions, particularly Asperger Syndrome
3. Theory into practice: case studies
– Helpful responses
– Challenges and constraints
4. Examples of inclusive practice and reasonable
13 April 2015
The Nottingham Trent University Autism
Support Team:
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The Autism Support Team at NTU
Some landmarks in our History
•2008 AS team established: Development Officer;
Designated Disability Officer; Academic Support
Key priorities: raising awareness; transitional and
on course support; forward planning
•2009 Mentor scheme pilot
•2010 Pre-entry events; Parents Guide; Dedicated
AS mentor; on line support
•2011 Renamed Autism Support; Fez Society set up
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Growth in numbers of HE students with
declared autism
According to the National Audit Office, 2003 -2008
the number of accepted applicants across the HE
sector rose from 139 to 706
• 2007/8
- 4 students with autism
•2010/11 – 15 students with autism
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Breakdown of current students by
academic school at NTU
• Science and Technology- 14
• Arts and Humanities- 9
• Social Sciences- 5
• Animal rural and environmental sciences- 4
• Law-3
• Art and Design- 3
• Architecture, Design and the Built Environment-3
• Business-0
• Education-0
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What is Asperger Syndrome
Autism spectrum condition is not like a piece of fruit but more like a
fruit salad. The combinations in those fruit salads might differ from
person to person (Donna Williams).
• AS does not mean lack of intelligence
• or that you are a genius
• University students with AS usually:
– have an average or above average IQ
– are highly motivated and intensely interested in their course
– are exceptionally logical in their thinking
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Strengths of people with autism
spectrum conditions
Clarity of
Spatial Skills
‘outside the
box‘ thinking
Ability to
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Clear sense
of justice
Good long
term memory
Visual skills
Strong rote
Triad of impairments
Social interaction
•Getting on with other people socially
•Establishing and maintaining friendships
•Understanding how to behave in social situations
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Triad of impairments
Social communication
•Speaking to others
•Listening to others
•Sustaining eye contact
•Lack of awareness of body language
•Literal understanding of language
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Triad of impairments
Imagination and flexibility
•Coping with change
•Making changes to fit in with external criteria
•Preference for fixed routines
•Strong, narrow, obsessive interests
•Tendency to obsessive and repetitive behaviours
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Possible associated issues
•Motor coordination
•Sensory differences such as over or under
sensitivity to noise, light, smell, touch
•High levels of anxiety and frustration, particularly
in relation to change
•Depression, often related to social isolation,
perceived rejection, low self esteem
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Overlap with Splds
•According to the ASPECT survey of 237 adults with
•23% had dyslexia
•15% were dyspraxic
Autism Spectrum
(inc. Asperger
•15% had ADHD
Attention Deficit
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Case studies
1. What are the issues for this student?
2. What would this student find helpful / unhelpful?
3. What can you do to accommodate this student’s
4. What constraints might staff face and how might
they be minimised?
5. Are there any issues outside of taught sessions
which might affect this student’s ability to
engage with their studies?
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Case study A
Student A has a good memory and appears well-organised. He
downloads his weekly timetable and copies it into his diary. He
writes down coursework deadlines so that he can plan towards them
as he finds it difficult to manage several tasks simultaneously.
Student A becomes very anxious when structures or routines
change, such as last minute room changes.
Student A gets distracted if he doesn’t immediately see how a topic
relates to the main course content. He also gets absorbed by one or
two topics which really fascinate him.
He gets extremely anxious around exam time. In exams, he may
wish to have questions read to him, or to read them out loud to
himself. After a recent exam he complained that his amanuensis
had not written quickly enough.
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Case study B
Student B is well-organised, punctual and reliable. She can struggle
to understand new concepts. However, she is reluctant to approach
tutors to ask for advice as she often doesn’t understand it anyway,
which can cause frustration. Sometimes her anxiety becomes so
acute that she ‘freezes’ and cannot make any progress for days.
She always manages to meet coursework deadlines but never feels
that her grades reflect the huge effort she puts in. The feedback on
her coursework is often confusing as it is not detailed or specific
enough, or may involve associations which she is unable to make
sense of.
She works quite well in small group activities but struggles to make
friends. She dislikes travelling on public transport and has trouble
going to busy places. She only comes onto campus when she has
taught sessions and spends most days in her room.
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Case study C
Student C processes information very slowly and may spend a whole
day thinking about something before it makes sense. He is
intelligent but due to his dyslexia he finds research challenging and
can struggle to express his thoughts and ideas.
Student C is sensitive to light (from reflective surfaces in particular)
and sound as he has very acute hearing. He becomes very anxious
in new environments and when there is no obvious structure to
follow. He finds working in the library particularly stressful and
prefers to work in the same area. On a couple of occasions he has
become very angry with other students for talking in the quiet zone.
He has also been rude to staff when library books have been
missing from the shelves. He has accumulated large library fines for
not returning short loan books on time, which he thinks is very
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Case study D
Student D is of high intelligence and capable of absorbing huge
amounts of information. He has perfectionist traits which can cause
delays to coursework submission. He experiences anger and
frustration when things go wrong, even with issues that seem quite
trivial and becomes depressed.
He doesn’t like group work. He has a tendency to dominate and can
be strikingly honest about others not pulling their weight. This
verbal bluntness can lead to social isolation. He is very naïve about
personal friendships as he doesn’t easily understand social rules and
conventions. He struggles to network with other students so misses
out on information which students share between themselves.
Student D’s mum is often on the phone asking for more support to
be put in place, although so far the student has been reluctant to
access services.
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Examples of
inclusive practice
At the start of a programme
of study
•Named members of academic and support staff to
offer ongoing, regular support within set
•Clear instructions about who to contact for
particular advice
•Early access to the NOW system and an induction
into how it works so that the student is clear how
to access timetable and course information.
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•Use clear, concise, unambiguous language,
avoiding metaphors, sarcasm and irony
•Provide concrete examples
•Summarise and write down key points
•Check understanding
•Make expectations explicit
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Lectures and seminars
•Try to minimise any sensory distractions
•Allow student to sit in preferred position
•In the event of inappropriate behaviour, deal with
the situation sensitively and calmly explaining
clearly and simply in private why the behaviour is
not acceptable and what to do in these situations
•Investigate non attendance at sessions at any
early stage
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• Give clear and prompt information about changes to
timetable and routines using consistent methods of
• Student may need additional clarification of assignment
briefs, practical advice on managing complex tasks and
flexibility with coursework deadlines
• Provide feedback in very plain language explaining
areas for improvement
• Provide guidance well in advance of exams giving
concrete examples of what type of answer is required.
• Input additional support at exam time
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Group work
•May be very challenging for students on the autism
spectrum and an alternative form of assessment
may be necessary
•Assist the student to join a group where the
members are supportive of each other
•Suggest that the group agrees clear ground rules
for working together and allocate roles
•Check that the student understands what they
have to do
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Causes for concern
•If a student appears unusually anxious or
depressed and is not responding to your support or
you are aware that they are not attending
sessions, then it is important to try to understand
what is underpinning their concerns and intervene
at an early stage.
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Closing comments
“University is a major step for young people with
autism owing to the change of routine, location
and social environment. Without appropriate
support they may not fulfil their potential and
complete their degree” (NAO 2009 p30).
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• Early, proactive input especially around transitions
• All staff should have training in understanding autism spectrum
conditions, and have access to relevant resources
• Support must be individual, tailored to specific requirements and
incorporate holistic principles
• Maintain regular and ongoing contact with students
• Offer social support to combat loneliness without increasing social
• Ask the student e.g. if the intervention is useful
• Be consistent in your approach
• Set the boundaries of your role
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Remember, be:
• Realistic
• Empathetic
• Anticipatory
• Logical
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Support contacts for students with
Autism Spectrum Conditions at NTU
Fred Postles
•Disability Officer (Autism Support)
•Tel: 0115 848 2085
•Email: [email protected]
Hilary Haigh
•Academic Support Specialist
•Tel: 0115 848 2399
•Email: [email protected]
13 April 2015
Beardon, L. & Edmonds, G. (2007). The Aspect report. A national
report on the needs of adults with Asperger Syndrome.
Madriaga, M. (2008). Experiences of students with AS making their
transition into university [presentation]. Part of the HEA Research
Seminar Series: Disability Equality Partnership Inclusive policy and
practice: Rhetoric or Reality? Held on 7 Feb 2008.
Martin, N. (2008). REAL services to assist students who have
Asperger Syndrome. [online]. Sheffield Hallam University.
National Audit Office, (2009). Supporting people with autism
through adulthood. [online].
13 April 2015
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