DCU was recognised as the world’s first Autism-Friendly university in a ceremony attended by President Michael D Higgins last Thursday.
The announcement made on St. Patrick’s Campus was recognised by AsIAm, an autism advocacy charity.
To mark the occasion, the first of several sensory pods have been installed in the library on St. Patrick’s Campus to facilitate autistic students.
The designation marks the conclusion of an 18-month DCU research project, led by Dr Mary Rose Sweeney and Professor Teresa Burke, the DCU School of Nursing and Human Sciences along with AsIAm and Specialisterne Ireland, a recruitment and support agency for people with autism.
Speaking at the event, Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm, said: “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.”
The DCU research found that students with autism in third level education have greater difficulty adapting and settling in to university life than their peers, with loneliness and anxiety featuring as main reasons.
Issues such as noisy environments, difficulties in managing schedules, deadlines and workload, challenges in participating in group work and unease in new social situations and extracurricular activities also make it harder to adapt.
“Irish society is not very capable of dealing with people with autism very well,” said DCUSU president Niall Behan.
“It’s about remembering that when you’re 18 you don’t suddenly not have autism anymore. If we’re going to autism-friendly our schools, why not our workplaces, places of socialising, so that it carries through,” Behan said.
“I think that there’s a huge drop off in people with autism going to university because of the social impact. It’s a lot to take in, induction, accommodation, there’s just so much going on that isn’t geared toward people with autism,” he said.
In order to achieve the Autism-Friendly University designation from AsIAm, a university must address eight principles that were established as part of the research study.
To address this, DCU will implement supports in the areas of communication and socialisation, provision of quiet spaces and quiet times at events, life skills, navigation of the physical campus, and securing internships and employment.