The Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) has adopted an international toolkit aimed at helping students with autism navigate the transition to university life.
The Autism&Uni toolkit, funded by the EU, is intended to be adapted by universities to address the needs of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
TUS’s Disability and Learning Support Office in Athlone has customised the toolkit, launching a website which is bespoke to the needs of TUS students and packed full of guidance, information, and strategies for overcoming commonly faced challenges.
“We are critically aware of the unique challenges faced by students with autism, and we are hopeful that this toolkit will support and inform them as they learn to navigate the university environment,” explained TUS Disability Officer Lisa Hanlon.
“The toolkit is laid out in a logical way,” she said, “offering practical advice and detailed information on the student journey, as well as how to access additional supports from the TUS Disability and Learning Support Office.”
Through the toolkit, students with ASD can access detailed maps of how to get to, from and around the campus as well as guidance on stress management and how to meet people and make friends.
The toolkit also contains a collection of stories detailing the lived experiences of students with ASD who are currently navigating university life, as well as advice from professionals who support people with ASD on a daily basis.
“This is about providing person-centred support and equipping students with ASD with the essential skills they’ll need to thrive in the university environment,” said Frances O’Connell, TUS’s VP for Student Education and Experience.
“The transition to university is a significant and exciting step for any student, but sometimes, it can be stressful. Students are exploring greater independence and navigating many new situations.
“We’re conscious that for neurodivergent students who might be sensitive to conditions like sensory overload and/or who may struggle with abrupt changes to routine, this can be especially challenging,” she explained.
“The goal of this toolkit is to mitigate a lot of that stress and make the whole transition to university less daunting.”
National figures published by AHEAD show that there are currently 17,866 students registered with disability support services across Irish universities, of which students with ASD make up 10 per cent.
The same report shows an almost 25 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of students with ASD accessing disability support services.
According to TUS President Professor Vincent Cunnane, the launch of the Autism&Uni toolkit is about “broadening access” to higher education and is the first of a series of initiatives being rolled out to make TUS an autism-friendly university.
“At TUS, we believe in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment that nurtures individual strengths and fosters both personal and academic growth, he said.
“While we’re seeing significant increases in the numbers of people with ASD accessing higher education, the data also shows that people with ASD are five times less likely than the total population to be enrolled in education.”
He continued, “Education should be easily accessible to all who would benefit from it, and the launch of this toolkit represents a significant step forward in dismantling barriers to access for students with ASD.”
Later this year, TUS will open a number of sensory lounges to support students with ASD in managing stress and combatting sensory overload while on campus.