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Leeds Beckett to launch autism pilot for students


A pilot scheme to improve services for students with autism is to be launched by Leeds Beckett University.

Leeds Beckett staff from our Disability Assessment Centre with representatives from the National Autism Society and Leeds Beckett researcher Mark Fabrey

(pictured: Kate Myers and Kate Dean from the Leeds Beckett Disability Assessment Centre, Emma Jones and Danielle Inwood from the National Autistic Society and Leeds Beckett researcher Dr Mark Fabri)

Leeds Beckett will be the first university to work in partnership with the National Autistic Society to become a Centre of Excellence for assessing students with autism. The pilot scheme will be launched on Thursday 2 April, to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day. 

Speaking ahead of the launch, Kate Dean, Disability Assessment Centre Manager at Leeds Beckett, said: “We understand the importance of transition for all students coming to university, but particularly for students with autism.  This pilot scheme will allow us to utilise the expertise of specialists within our sector to ensure we are able to offer the best possible service to students in a way that is meaningful for them. Enabling students to identify strategies that can be implemented independently not only allow the student to settle into their chosen area of study, but can also be enhanced throughout University and encourage transition pathways from University into employment.

“We are thrilled to be working with The National Autistic Society in this way but we also want to make sure we consult with students that have used, or would want to use our service. As part of our project, we are looking to create a network of autism champions made up of staff representatives across all services and faculties in our University to raise awareness, disseminate best practice and offer peer support and development for our colleagues for the benefit of all of our students and staff.”

Emma Jones, Partnerships and Employment Training Coordinator at the National Autistic Society added: “We are very excited to be working in partnership with Leeds Beckett Disability Assessment Centre to support the team to work with prospective University students to ensure there are no barriers for people with autism to access Higher education.”

Leeds Beckett University’s Disability Assessment Centre is an established independent assessment centre and the service is available to anyone with a disability, including those with autism, studying in the local area or living locally and studying at any higher education institution in the UK. The centre helps students to access the government-funded Disabled Students’ Allowance which provides help for any additional costs such as specialised equipment and software, to provide a non-medical helper or to help with accommodation or travel costs.  In recent years Leeds Beckett has seen a 20% year-on-year increase in students declaring autism, including Asperger syndrome.

The pilot scheme will also build on existing related research which is currently being undertaken at Leeds Beckett. In October 2014,  a team of researchers won a European grant for a three year project entitled ‘Autism&Uni’ which seeks to identify potential barriers into higher education and ways of overcoming them.

Researcher Dr Marc Fabri, who is leading the Autism&Uni project and will also act as the pilot’s first ‘Autism Champion’ explained: “Students on the autism spectrum are under-represented in higher education. Those who do embark on a university course can find the transition particularly challenging and do not complete their degree. Typical challenges faced are false expectations of what HE study is like, social isolation, anxiety and depression. Receiving personalised support right from the start is critical and can make a huge difference to the student’s well-being and success in their studies.”

Autism&Uni aims to widen access to higher education for young people on the autism spectrum. The team are developing interactive tools for students to find out about the challenges they are facing and develop strategies for overcoming these. The prototype tools are currently being evaluated with the help of students on the autism spectrum. The project will also map good practice in autism support across Europe and publish a guide for use by universities.

Autism&Uni is a European-funded project with partners in 5 countries: Leeds Beckett University (UK), The Foundation for European Initiatives (UK), Keskuspuisto Vocational College (Finland), Autismo Burgos (Spain), Eindhoven University of Technology  (The Netherlands), Lodz University of Humanities and Economics (Poland). The project runs from October 2013 until March 2016.

For more information visit www.autism-uni.org

The Disability Assessment Centre team hopes to obtain feedback and input from any students with autistic spectrum conditions, including Asperger Syndrome and plans to hold a student consultation event in the near future. To find out further information or to express an interest in attending the event, please contact the team at: assessmentcentre@leedsbeckett.ac.uk  or call 0113 812 3357.

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