A recent study by Helen Goddard and Anna Cook has shed light on the difficulty faced by university students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The research paper explores the social experiences of students on the Autistic Spectrum, and outlines ways in which universities can improve support for these students.

Just over half the participants in the study reported dissatisfaction with their social life during their undergraduate degree. Students were more concerned with the quality of friends rather than quantity, and most participants felt that awareness of autism at university could be improved.

Participants who attended an autism society felt that meeting others with autism was a beneficial experience as it allowed them to develop friendships and share experiences with students they could relate to.

Facilitators for a more positive social experience at university.

Having adequate support from the university (including social monitoring), spending time with other autistic students, being involved in a society of interest, and having at least one high-quality friendship with a student who is accepting and aware of ASD were all mentioned as helping students ease into higher education.

The semi-structured interviews highlighted the need for further social support at university. This could include mentoring sessions, which all participants found beneficial – some even found them ‘crucial’ for their wellbeing at university.

Where universities can make improvements.

To accommodate non-neurotypical students in higher education, more non-alcohol focused events in environments that are not too noisy or crowded should be considered. Autism societies should also be encouraged as they are beneficial in decreasing isolation.

Most importantly, universities should do more to educate neurotypical students and challenge stereotypes about autism. One method could be to teach students about the advantages of neurodiversity, this may facilitate a healthier and more welcoming environment for students with ASD.

To find out more about this, read the full research paper here