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How Leeds Beckett is becoming more autism friendly

Leeds Beckett has become the latest University to adopt the Autism&Uni toolkit, which aims to improve access and transition into university for autistic students. The resource was created as part of a European funded project led by Dr Marc Fabri from our School of Computing, Creative Technology and Engineering. Other universities using the toolkit are Portsmouth, UCL, University for the Creative Arts and Birmingham.

The toolkit pulls together information and advice from staff and students, highlighting the excellent resources we have to help students adjust to university life. These include virtual tours of campus and accommodation, videos made by our students about each campus, comments from autistic students and guidance from academic tutors about what to expect in lectures and seminars.

Kate Dean, Head of Disability and School Support, said: “We are delighted to launch the Autism&Uni toolkit. We hope that it will be useful not only for our current students, but also for students who haven’t even decided whether they want to go to university, let alone where to go or what to study.

“We have spent a long time making it Beckett-specific to ensure we can provide accurate and useful information to help manage students’ expectations and understand what it is to be a student, to be a student at Leeds Beckett and how to become an independent learner.”

The Autism&Uni project, originally started in 2014, ran simultaneously to the Disability Assessment Centre’s collaboration with the National Autistic Society, which also focused on the importance of transition to university.

Our Disability Advice team and Dr Marc Fabri were able to collaborate, pooling their shared knowledge and experience and gathering numerous contributions from autistic students throughout, to develop the toolkit prototype. They also contributed to the Autism&Uni Best Practice Guides, a set of three guides targeted at HE managers, academics and professionals working in autism support. The research findings and best practice guides were launched at a one-day ‘Transition Pathways Conference’ in March 2016, to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day, celebrated on 2 April each year.

Since the work began, the number of autistic students coming to our university continues to rise.

Kate Dean said: “When we started this work in 2014, we were seeing a 20% year-on-year increase in the number of autistic students coming to study with us. This trend has continued. Last year we also started to see a shift in the male-to-female ratio, with an increase in female students. Hopefully, this reflects a shift in awareness of the masking that can occur in autistic females, which can result in a diagnosis not being explored.”

The Disability Advice and Assessment teams continue their work in leading annual Student Transition Days, having just run their third event specifically for autistic students. The teams continue to deliver Autism Awareness workshops, available to all colleagues through People Development, and now run a weekly social group for autistic students called Spectrum.

Kate said: “We look forward to continuing this work with the IMAGE project - Dr Marc Fabri’s latest research exploring the employment gap in autistic graduates, and our collaborative work with the Students’ Union to raise autism awareness this coming year.” 

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