Dublin City University was yesterday (Thursday, March 22nd) recognised as the world’s first Autism-Friendly University by AsIAm, the autism advocacy charity.
The announcement at DCU’s St Patrick’s Campus was attended by President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, Patron of AsIAm. The designation marks the conclusion of an 18- month research project, led by Dr Mary Rose Sweeney in collaboration with Professor Teresa Burke DCU School of Nursing and Human Sciences along with AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland, a specialist recruitment and support agency for people with autism.
Research findings by DCU show that students with Autism in third level often experience greater levels of difficulty settling in and adapting to University life than do their peers. Frequently cited issues were discomfort in noisy environments; difficulties in managing schedules, deadlines and workload, challenges in participating in group work and unease in new social situations and extracurricular activities. Loneliness and anxiety also featured strongly.
To achieve the Autism-Friendly University designation from AsIAm, a university must address eight generic principles that were established as part of the research study.
To address these principles, which aim to respond to the range of challenges faced by students with Autism, DCU will implement a series of practical actions and initiatives. These include complementary academic and social supports as well as supports in the areas of:
- communication and socialisation
- provision of quiet spaces and quiet times at events
- life skills
- navigation of the physical campus
- securing internships and employment
These initiatives will be augmented by increased Autism-specific training and awareness amongst academic and support staff across the university as well as amongst the general student body with a particular emphasis on student ambassadors and class representatives.
Dr Mary Rose Sweeney, School of Nursing and Human Sciences, Principal Investigator and Project Lead, Autism Friendly University, DCU:
“This whole of university initiative, which provides additional supports to students with Autism and increases knowledge and awareness of Autism amongst academics, support staff, and the general student body, will enhance the experiences of students with Autism while at DCU and help them to transition successfully to employment or further studies.”
Adam Harris, CEO AsIAm said:
“We warmly congratulate DCU on achieving AsIAm Autism-Friendly University Status. Today's announcement is a timely one. As we see more young Autistic people come out of the school system it is vital that higher education and indeed the adult world become more accessible and inclusive of the Autism community. Universities which attain Autism-Friendly Status are understanding of the needs of Autistic students, open to making adaptations to be more accessible and have a positive, celebratory culture towards Autism. These Universities will not only ensure autistic students can thrive while studying but also serve as a springboard to employment opportunities after study. Working with our partners in Specialisterne Ireland, it has been a pleasure to embark on this journey with DCU. We are excited to see the implementation of their exciting plan over the next three years and indeed to see many more universities join the ranks as Autism-friendly institutions.”
Today’s event also marks a series of designations awarded to DCU in recognition of their long-standing commitment to equity of access and widening of participation for under-represented groups in higher education, including the University of Sanctuary (2016) and Age-Friendly University (2012). DCU’s Strategic focus on widening participation and providing educational opportunities for all, builds upon its long running Access programme which currently supports more than 1300 students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Commenting on the designation Prof Brian MacCraith, President of Dublin City University said:
“The designation of DCU as the world’s first Autism-Friendly University is a key milestone for the University and is an important recognition of our commitment to educational opportunity and to social inclusion. In particular, it reflects DCU’s core commitment to provide opportunities and a supportive environment to groups that are under-represented in our education system. In establishing the concept and underpinning principles of an Autism-Friendly University in conjunction with AsIAm, we hope to provide the blueprint for others to follow and that this will become a global movement. At DCU our commitment is to create an environment which helps students with Autism to flourish educationally and socially and to significantly enhance their employability. We know that this will mean a lot to students with Autism and to their parents.”