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Supporting Autistic Students:

Reflections from Staffordshire University's AccessAbility Services

Through our delivery of Time to Talk, we heard about Staffordshire University’s work to make transitioning into Higher Education as smooth as possible for autistic students and students with learning difficulties. In this blog, Kerry Summerfield explains more about the University’s AccessAbility Services.

University image for blog

We aim to ensure that a student’s needs are met before starting a course, during their study and after graduation. A range of services are on offer including screening for dyslexia and support for mental wellbeing. They can also advise on Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA), accessibility issues and a wide range of support and adjustments.

We aim to make the transition into Higher Education as smooth as possible for autistic students and students with learning difficulties and will work with students at an early stage to create an individual support plan. Students are supported throughout their application to ensure that funding is in place through the DSA assessment to pay for any equipment, services or support they need to be able to study effectively. They can also access Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) specific Mentors and Tutors through DSA, to help address any barriers to learning and reach their full potential

In August, the University holds a Quiet Transition and students who have disclosed ASD or anxiety issues, and a support person such as a parent, carer or friend will be invited. This is a two-day/one-night residential event, and students stay in University accommodation on campus to familiarise themselves with the environment. Last August the event was held in a socially distanced way in line with COVID-19 restrictions

On day one there is a welcome, lunch and introduction to the Student Support Team, so students feel comfortable about accessing any support they may need. This is followed by a discussion about hopes and fears about University – expectations and reality.

A campus tour then takes place, followed by a presentation on Supporting your Wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond. The presentation includes resources for students with ASD which they may find helpful including creating a new routine, making the most of your studies, keeping in touch and coping with changes. Afterwards there is a short walk around the local area and dinner

The second day concentrates on independence skills including a demonstration of how the laundry works, and cooking skills (easy recipe ideas, healthy eating and coping with flatmates in a shared kitchen). Practical matters are also covered including information on how to get post and receive deliveries, a visit to the health centre and to meet ResLife reception.

In the afternoon a Transitions support presentation takes place, followed by a support discussion for parents with the Student Support Management Team. Going to University can be an anxious time for students and parents, and this session enables parents to have their questions answered. A Personal Support LSS planning session follows and then we re-visit the Hopes & Fears session, with a Q&A session to follow.

The University runs a peer mentoring scheme to support all new students for the first eight weeks of their University journey. New students can request a mentor and can indicate if they have a disability or autism. Peer mentors will be trained in autism/learning difficulties awareness.

The University Wellbeing Service is available to support students with any issues they might experience while they’re with us at Staffordshire. These might include relationship issues, study problems or anything which is causing concern – we’re here to help. It’s really easy to make an appointment with the friendly Wellbeing Service should it be needed.

Our ResLife mentors are another great source of support. They’re students who have been at the University for at least a year, who stay in the University accommodation and make sure everyone is happy and settled. They will tell you where to find the best supermarket in the area, where to do your laundry or will have a cuppa and a chat with you.

The University has created new resources over the last year to support students with autism in the pandemic:

  • A Guide for Tutors to online learning for students with ASD has been created with guidance on how create the best learning experience for students with ASD. This includes the effects of the pandemic and how we can best support students with ASD when teaching online.
  • A resource on Supporting your Learning including guidance on using Microsoft Office, calendar (including categorising and colour coding), etiquette when using Teams, signposting to resources in the Library (Academic support, Study Skills, Subject Librarian and Study Skills), using SMART technology to support your learning, Assistive Tools and Software and a reminder about DSA Assessments.

For more information, please contact Kerry Summerfield (Student Project Officer):

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