'ACHIEVING MORE AT COLLEGE' PROJECT

Following the successful completion of the 'High Achievers' project investigating support for students with autism at university, the Independent Autism Research Group team turned its attention to colleges of further education. The 'Achieving More at College' project was launched in February 2017. We have again used Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests as our main research tool. FOIA requests were sent to over 100 colleges throughout the UK. Despite the statutory requirement to respond to these requests, the response rate from the colleges was poor. However, with the assistance of the Information Commissioner's Office, we eventually achieved sufficient responses. An article based on our findings will be published in Good Autism Practice shortly. The team is now working on a pilot exercise to validate a questionnaire designed to enable us to evaluate support for autistic students at secondary school.

HIGH ACHIEVERS' PROJECT

In the United Kingdom autism is classed as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act, 2005. Under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, 2001, higher education (HE) institutions in the UK are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities who are placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to students without disabilities. Despite the social difficulties associated with autism, and autistic students being at a heightened risk of dropping out of university, high-functioning autistic students are often high achievers academically. The National Audit Office recognises university as a desirable option for academically gifted students with autism. As there have been few studies directly examining the needs of autistic students in post-secondary education by established researchers, the High Achievers Project team of which I am a member undertook an online questionnaire survey of all the UK universities, other than those under foreign ownership, to ascertain current levels of support for students with autism in HE. This was followed up with FOIA requests to establishments which did not respond to the questionnaire. We have now reported our findings based on responses from 99 universities. As autistic university graduates are at a disadvantage to their non-autistic peers in obtaining employment after graduation, the team proposes that all HE establishments follow the Government recommendation for providers of services not covered by the Autism Act, 2009, but who support people into employment, to adopt the Statutory Guidance issued in connection with the Adult Autism Strategy. Universities should also consider seeking accreditation under the National Autistic Society’s accreditation scheme.