This post is in the Students category

Students at tertiary level who have diagnosed ASD or heightened autistic traits are statistically less likely to succeed than their neurotypical colleagues, despite a greater than average likelihood of entering post secondary education (Gray & Attwood, 1999). The cited research is now ten years old, but with the vast increase in ASD diagnosis over that period, the trend continues (Attwood, 2008).

The experiences over the course of this study have suggested that there are many students with ASD or heightened traits in creative industries education, which is my particular arena. In many cases a diagnosis is probably not warranted, and the traits may well be of great value. However, if the traits impair functioning, then a diagnosis, and its associated access to support services, may be an option.

Through my own diagnosis, and through this study I have become much more aware of my own traits, strengths and weaknesses and how they affect my own learning. The process has enabled me to find workarounds in some circumstances, and also to advocate for myself and for students under my tutelage. I would suggest that ASD students in colleges and universities need to carefully look at the general descriptions of ASD, Asperger’s and HFA and understand which of the traits apply to them personally and how the positive and negative  manifestations affect them. This may well require the assistance of a qualified psychologist.

Over the course of this research, it has been clear that the understanding of autism in the general community is extremely poor.  This observation includes educators, particularly those in higher education whose training is in their specialist field as a opposed to education, and few have sufficient knowledge to recognise and teach to the heightened traits in their classrooms and tutorials.

If you have a diagnosis of ASD (or any other “learning disability” for that matter) it is important for the college administration to be aware, and also the lecturer if you are in smaller group situations where constant interaction and collaboration are expected. Openness is not always easy, but the more the student and the staff understand, the more likely a successful learning relationship can be formed. If the administration or academics you inform about your condition are not aware of ASD (and this is quite likely), it will be useful for you to direct them to books or websites that have information that you trust. A number of books are now available that assist both students and educators (Breakey, 2006; Harpur, Fitzgerald, & Lawlor, 2004; Palmer, 2006).

The most important implication of this research for those students “on the spectrum” concerns self-knowledge. As a student myself, albeit at adult post-graduate stages, the understanding gained through study of the autism spectrum and looking carefully at my own experiences compared to others has been extremely useful in helping me to learn. A study of this depth is clearly not for everyone, but the process of diarising experiences and actively comparing them to the experiences of others and to ASD literature is available to most people. This dissertation, through its publication on the internet, also contributes to that availability.

This is not merely theory. For a striking example of this implication I present an account of a particular student who I was able to identify as Asperger and assist through his diagnosis process.  Allan is a good example of a very intelligent student who’s happiness in the education environment was compromised by his ASD traits. I have given my perspective of the story, and Allan has contributed his own.


Communication issues are a primary barrier to learning

Multi sensory input can be confusing

Understanding helps.

Leave a Reply