Lina, a Financial Analyst and an Economics and Accounting graduate from Brunel University, tells us about her experience of going to university as a person with autism.
What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
An autism spectrum disorder (ASD), also known in short as ‘autism’, is a developmental disability which causes social and communication-based behavioural challenges.
As a person with autism, were you nervous about applying to university?
I was quite nervous about applying. Autism affects everyone differently, but for me, it manifests as over-planning. So I became anxious trying to work out which university would be suited to me, which location would be best, what would be the right distance from home… it was a challenge I had to mentally prepare myself for.
Did you mention your autism in your application?
When completing my university application, I was a little worried about the stigma around autism; I thought I would be judged if I mentioned it. I also didn’t have the support from my college to encourage me to mention it, so I didn’t. I wish I had known about all the support I could have accessed from the start of my studies if I had.
How did you find the transition from school to university?
Surprisingly, I found the transition from college to university much less overwhelming than I’d expected. Moving from studying several subjects in-depth to one that I really enjoyed, was more manageable than I’d thought it would be. To me, it felt like less of a step than the difference between taking GSCEs and taking A Levels.
At university, were there any adjustments available to you, so you could get the best out of student life?
It was only after my teacher recognised I was struggling that I found out just how much support was out there.
After learning that I had autism, my lecturers gave me the option to work in groups or independently for some projects. I was also at university before remote learning was as advanced as it is now, so we had to attend all our lectures. To manage this, I was given a recording device, meaning I could record lectures and then listen back as many times as I needed to, to help me absorb the information that was taught.
I also had extra time for exams - around a third of the typical exam time - to allow for the anxiety and overthinking I often experience at the start of an exam.
Were you able to access any financial support?
I was working a part-time job during my studies, so I didn’t explore the option of financial support. However, I know that students with autism can access the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), so that’s definitely worth applying for.
Did you find teaching staff to be supportive?
I found lecturers to be really supportive. When you have lecturers around you who encourage you to accept your autism, it encourages you to do the work. If I didn’t understand something, I also felt reassured that I could speak to a lecturer in person, or drop them an email and receive a response within 24 hours. We also had access to something called Moodle, which is a student intranet where you can also contact lecturers.
Did you connect with a disabilities rep or a student mentor?
I personally didn’t connect with a rep or mentor, but this is partly because I was masking (hiding my autism) fairly well for the first two years. I tried to pretend I could manage everything. It was only when a lecturer noticed I was falling behind, that I was encouraged to contact my university’s student services and found out how I could get help.
Is there any advice you’d give to autistic students applying to university?
My advice would be to understand your own experience of autism: your gifts, and your limitations. Know what support you need, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. And remember, university is a little step, but probably nowhere near as big as you’re imagining it to be.
Want to learn more about preparing for university with a neurodivergence or disability? Check out ‘Invisible disabilities at university: A guide to settling in.’