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Why university is the time to embrace your autism diagnosis

18th August 2015

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The University of BathStudents with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome who begin university this autumn should reveal their diagnosis in order to be better supported by professional services and their peers, according to new research conducted at the University of Bath.

For many young people with these conditions, university is a brand new setting, an enclosed place to start afresh; to make new friends, to focus on a new area of study, and to impress expecting tutors. Indeed, the latest research from psychologists at Bath, published in the journal Autism, supports the presupposition that universities are more open and accepting than other environments.

Yet academics and institutions focused on this issue have worried that the chance to reinvent one’s self in a new environment may actually lead students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), encompassing both Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, to not disclose their conditions, perhaps as a result of negative experiences at a younger age and within wider society.

The new research reveals that in situations where a student demonstrated an unusual behaviour to participants, both when they were aware of their diagnosis and not, their peers are much more likely to respond in a positive, constructive fashion when they were made aware of the student’s condition.

Participants, when faced with a scenario in which a student insisted chairs were to be stacked in a very specific way, were asked to rate their feelings both when the student was described as a ‘typical student’ or a ‘student with ASD’. The results showed that responses were more positive, and importantly less negative, when participants were aware of the diagnosis.

Mark Brosnan, the researcher behind the study, explains: “Deciding how and when to disclose a diagnosis is a very personal decision. Whilst disclosing a diagnosis can enable access to support, students can be uncertain about whether or not to disclose.

“The research suggests peers may be more positive in interpreting mildly unusual behaviour in the university context.”

The University of Bath’s Autism Summer School, a residential event allowing students with ASD to experience all aspects of student life before term begins, has been successful and is to be offered out to thirty young people this September. But with students often reporting that it can be difficult to define autism and its affects to others, encouraging ASD students to open up is an ongoing battle.

To find out more about the autism summer school click here

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