Matthew Smith

Profile picture of Matthew Smith

Studying for the Bachelor's in Early Childhood Education was a really positive experience for Matthew because “everyone wants you to succeed”.  


Before coming to DCU, Matthew Smith’s experience of higher education was less than positive. In school he was a high achiever and had always dreamed of studying English. But after getting the course he wanted, he found himself struggling and ultimately failed his first year. 

It was “a huge crisis of confidence, or even a crisis of identity even because I had always been like the smart one, you know. So for me to fail, it was really kind of disturbing.”

During that time, Matthew was diagnosed as autistic. “That made a lot of things make sense of the difficulty I was having while I was studying. It made a lot of sense, and it kind of illuminated different ways that I could cope with that.”

Considering a new option for his education, Matthew decided he would like to work with children and applied for DCU’s Bachelor of Early Childhood Education (BECE). As well as the course content, Matthew’s choice was influenced by the University’s student support system. “In particular, the Autism Friendly University programme was the deciding factor that made me put the course as my number one choice in my CAO.”

Studying in the DCU Institute of Education was a very different university experience for Matthew. The people on his course were very friendly and the teaching staff were open and approachable. 

“Everyone there is just really enthusiastic about wanting everybody to succeed. There's lots of support and it was just a really cool experience,” says Matthew.

Following his autism diagnosis, Matthew gained a new perspective on college life, with new strategies to help him cope with any stressful situations he might encounter. He came to realise that “if I'm having trouble, it doesn't mean it's the end of the world.”

The ‘sensory pods’ installed on DCU campuses as part of its Autism-Friendly University initiative were a great refuge in times of stress. “I would feel like my head is full of bees,” says Matthew. “And I would go into the sensory room, and I would come out and I'd be like, okay! And then I’d get an essay done in an hour.”

Work placements are a key element of the BECE programme. While it was a real challenge for him, Matthew gradually got used to working in noisy childcare settings. In his final year, he opted for a policy-focused placement with the AsIam organisation. This gave him the chance to work on a conference and with the organisation’s social groups for young autistic people. 

Overall, his work placement experiences taught him that his strengths lie in working with children on a one-to-one basis. This sparked his interest in becoming an Assessment of Needs Officer - a role that involves assessing children with special educational needs and recommending the supports they require.  

In pursuit of this goal, Matthew is now doing a Master’s in Psychological Science at Queens University, Belfast. The move to Belfast has also given him new experiences. “You’re living away from home, you’re being independent, but also there's lots of supports in place.”

Reflecting back on his DCU experience, Matthew says the supportive environment helped him to flourish academically. “I ended up going from you failing out of one university to getting first class honours in this one.”

DCU Prospectus - Go back to Bachelor of Education - Early Childhood Education