According to the National Autistic Society, there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autism is considered to be a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.
If you have autism, you are considered to be neurodiverse and neurodivergent. This is a non-medical broad term that describes people with variation in their mental functions. Autistic people are known for their real passion for a subject they are interested in and make wonderful learners. However, the challenge is that they often can feel alone and misunderstood, which doesn’t help make for a positive learning experience.
It is believed that 2.4% of the UK student population are diagnosed with autism, and they are 10 times more likely than neurotypical students to drop out, as less than 40% of autistic people complete their university education. So, there is much that needs to be done to improve the learning experience for you.
Difficulties with communication, interaction and relating to fellow students and teachers as well as people in general.
Difficulties processing information in a fast and accurate manner, and in keeping up with the pace of other students.
Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours.
Difficulties with reading and comprehension.
Heightened anxiety if things change unexpectedly, at short notice and especially when sitting exams.
The first and most important step is to share your challenges, in confidence, with your teachers, so that they understand your needs and can help adjust things for you. It’s important for them to gain the background knowledge on how to effectively teach so you can achieve the best result possible.
It is also important for you to support yourself too. Here are five ideas for improving your own experience whilst studying:
Develop a deeper understanding and knowledge of your own learning style. Autistic children and adults are often visual learners. This could be because visual information lasts longer and is more concrete than spoken and heard information. If you don’t understand a theory or concept, ask your teacher to write it down and if possible, to draw it.
If you’re struggling with information overload and it’s causing you anxiety, ask your teachers if the topic can be broken down into smaller more manageable chunks, this will make it easier for you to understand.
Ask for advance information on any changes to study schedules, such as changes of dates, places or times, or any new subjects coming up which allow you to plan and spend time reading about it. This will help to reduce your anxiety.
If you are struggling with the anxiety caused by the uncertainty of exams, speak to your school or college’s disability services if it has such a provision, they may be able to provide alternative assessment through coursework rather than exams.
If you need more time to grasp a concept, ask for it. Try to remember that everyone learns at a different pace and just because someone completed something quickly, doesn’t mean to say they fully understood it.
Find a support network – Speak to the disability service or your teachers to ask them if they can connect you with other autistic students at the institution. It helps to be able to share experiences and help each other.
Finally, it’s important to always remember that your dedication and passion for your subject, combined with your logical thinking ability and your capability for alternate problem solving and creativity, are wonderful traits for a student to have.
A final note
It is World Autism Awareness Day on Sunday the 2nd of April, this weekend, and the best place to find more on this is to take a look at the UN’s specifically designated website, which you can find by clicking here.
Vicky Chilton is