DCU aims to create world's first "autism-friendly" university 2 years ago

DCU aims to create world's first "autism-friendly" university

Dublin City University has begun the process of implementing a range of measures to make life at the college more comfortable for students with autism.

The decision to attempt to make the university more inclusive for those with autism follows a study carried out at the Dublin university, which identified issues that caused difficulty or discomfort for those with the condition.

The research found that students with autism often experienced levels of difficulty far greater than their peers in the categories of settling in and adapting to university life.

Discomfort in noisy environments, expressing themselves in social situations and coping with stressful and anxiety-inducing situations such as deadlines and work commitments were cited frequently as challenging amongst students with autism currently studying at the university.

The study's research also discovered that some students with autism were prone to loneliness and anxiety.

People with autism can often experience difficulties with communicating and socialising. As well as this, they may also have a heightened sensory perception, meaning things like noise, bright colours and fluorescent lighting can cause anxiety levels to rise considerably.

The research was carried out in conjunction with the autism advocacy group AsIAm, which has since designated DCU an 'autism-friendly' university.

The new initiatives the college aims to implement includes the establishment of a new society for students with autism, as well as a "buddy" system or peer mentoring programme. The college also plans to develop designated quiet spaces for students with autism.

Research from a study carried out by AsIAm showed noise levels, including noise during busy times in the canteen, were identified as a particular problem.

Programmes will also be introduced to develop an awareness and understanding of autism among staff.

The college intends to implement the measures over the next three years.

President Michael D. Higgins celebrated the university's decision to implement such changes by arriving at the college on Wednesday afternoon and delivering a speech commending AsIAm and DCU on their commitment to diversity and education.

"The increased focus we have witnessed on the needs of autistic children is positive and uplifting. We must remember, however, that those needs do not end at the school gate.

Autistic children become Autistic adults who continue to have potential that must be nurtured, possibilities that need enabling, a voice that is entitled to be heard, and skills, talents and gifts that can enrich our society.

The adult world, therefore, needs to be more welcoming towards autistic citizens, ensuring they receive the same opportunities to thrive and flourish as all their fellow citizens."

Adam Harris, founder of AsIAm.ie and disability advocate has been working with a close-knit team to create an autism-friendly atmosphere in the college since 2016.

Harris spoke about the importance of an inclusive environment to ensure a successful transition from secondary school to third level for all students.

“The aim of this project is to help students with autism transition to third level and ultimately to independence by creating a more inclusive atmosphere in college, and helping with their transition to employment," he said.

"Working with Dublin City University, we can create a social, commercial, academic and cultural environment which is wholly inclusive..  If we succeed, more people with autism will remain and succeed both at third-level and subsequently in work.

“Our programme will help assess student’s abilities and areas of strength while they are still in college and provide training to undertake work experience, to ensure students with autism access the same opportunities as their peers.  The outcome will be a model of inclusion and successful transition suitable for universities throughout Ireland.”