Getting more young people with autism into university
19 February 2014
One in three people on the autistic spectrum aged between 16 and 24 are not in education, employment or training - more than double the number amongst the general population - despite often displaying above average levels of intelligence.
Today a unique initiative will be launched by the University to encourage young people with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) to go to university.
Tailored to meet the needs of pupils with ASD aged between 14 to 19-years, the Discovery Project will use current university students as mentors to help raise their aspirations, overcome their anxieties and improve the skills they need for university life. This will be achieved through a combination of workshops, academic taster sessions and social events held fortnightly.
Pupils will also receive extra support for homework, revision and making applications to college or university. The opportunity to improve motor skills and social interaction will be delivered through specially tailored circus skills sessions, while yoga classes will attempt to reduce anxiousness in pupils.
"Through speaking to parents and young people with ASD, we realised that there's a lot of support for students when they get to university, but actually getting there in the first place is a really big challenge," said Scott McKenzie, Widening Access Officer at Cardiff.
"New environments can generate a lot of anxiety for young people on the autism spectrum, but it needn't be a barrier to entering further or higher education. With the right support, pupils can have the confidence to overcome their anxieties and go on to become experts in their chosen field, with the ultimate aim of helping them gain a foothold on the career ladder," he added.
The University's Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan said:
"Cardiff University celebrates and promotes equality and diversity, and we feel it's important that support for people with autism isn't restricted to those already enrolled on a degree. It's vital that we reach out to communities and make known to school children with autism the innumerable opportunities and support that going to university can offer. I'm hopeful that this bold and worthwhile initiative will serve to encourage more prospective students on the autism spectrum to continue their education and realise their academic potential here at Cardiff."
People with ASD often struggle to interact and communicate in social situations; change and unfamiliarity are strong trigger points for feelings of anxiety. A mere 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment and only 9% are in part-time employment. 26% graduates with autism are unemployed which is by far the highest rate of any disability group.
Record numbers of young people with ASD will be attending a Discovery Project Visit Day held at the university on Wednesday 19 February. Over 100 young people in their early to late teens - as well as parents and teachers - will join together to gain information about the support available at university for people with ASD.
The day will begin with a session which explains what kind of ASD support is available at Cardiff. The session will be delivered by the Student Support Team at the university, with an afternoon punctuated by visits to individual academic schools, accompanied by student ambassadors experienced in working with young people with additional learning needs.
Speaking on the day will be current University students with ASD, who will take part in a discussion panel consisting of parents and University staff. The students understand how difficult it can be to overcome the anxieties associated with going to university. They also benefit from attending similar events in the past at Cardiff, including the Discovery Summer School.
The Summer School, which involves an overnight stay in Halls of Residence, is a real chance for young people with ASD to experience university life in a safe, supported environment. University student 'buddies' are on hand to support the young people through everyday student activities including shopping for food, cooking dinner in student flats, going out for a meal, taking different forms of transport, attending a social event and finding their way around the campus.