Are Autistic people supported at University?

people inside building

The undue pressure to meet our own accessibility needs in education is astounding. We have to constantly rely on our own advocacy, of that of our loved ones to be taken seriously. And it doesn’t get any easier in further education.

University is filled with so many difficult social interactions, overwhelming spaces, inconsistent timetables and the emails, oh the fucking emails!

Universities are full of freezing cold rooms, boiling hot rooms, tiny tables, people everywhere (and the smells and noises which come with them), locked windows, feedback from class microphones…

There were no lockers at my uni so I had to take all my stuff with my everywhere I went across a city wide campus. My stuff included lunch as food was so expensive and not very nice there.

This was even worse in cold weather with my coat, hat, scarf, warm boots and bag and then having to take all that off and put it somewhere in already squashed rooms. And wearing warm boots in an overheated room, I sat there bare foot most days.

Don’t talk to me about group work. So much stress, having your grade dependent on others who either don’t show, put in the the bare minimum effort or contribute very last minute.

And all of this before I’ve even looked at a textbook!

Things got a lot better for me during post graduate. There was so much flexibility and I was able to do all of my work from home, really helpful during pregnancy and the early days of parenthood.

This doesn’t suit everyone of course, some people thrive in more structured and supported environments which isn’t an option in post grad research degrees.

My supervisor left me to it for the most part: she was my under grad supervisor and knew and trusted my work style. She was always there at the end of an email or phone call and her knowledge of LGBTQIA+ issues is impressive, to say the least.

I know that getting a good supervisor, let alone knowing your supervisor beforehand, is a rare privilege. Many of the people on my course had a nightmare with their supervisors, which is an access issue in itself.

There are lots of people, Autistic and otherwise, who suffer significant mental health issues and crisis during university. The inaccessibility, poor communication and inconsistency of expectations is hard to navigate.

Then there’s the workload itself, which can be so much harder if you are learning disabled or have processing differences. And you can only be supported if you have the privilege of formal diagnosis.

I got help from my uni in my third year as it took me two years to get my diagnosis. The help I got was amazing although that was solely organised by disability services not my school faculty. I got practical help but not social or sensory help. I think some teachers didn’t believe I was Autistic, or they thought my support needs weren’t real. This is particularly disturbing coming from so-called ‘SEN expert’ professors.

I tried to apply to PhD twice and my God, it is so confusing and anxiety-inducing. I’ve given up with that for now. I’ll go back to it another time I’m sure but I’ll need significant help to make sense of it all. Set PhD just isn’t going to do it for me unless someone miraculously has a set study on trans Autistic experiences (let me know!).

There are so many amazing Autistic and otherwise Neurodivergent academics out there, just imagine what they could be doing if they had their needs met!

And all those potential Autistic academics if they could get into further education in the first place, let alone have an environment where they stay in education.

If we didn’t have so many weird neurotypical hoops to jump through, and bullshit to put up with, we could advance autism research so much quicker.

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