5 tips for helping your autistic child choose a university.

I can hardly believe that the years have gone by at such a pace that Edward and I now have university open days dotting our calendar throughout June and July. There’s going to be a lot of criss crossing of the country over the next few months as we zip around trying to get a feel for where Edward might fit in. A big part of me wants to find a lovely small city with a campus university so that I can rest easy at night thinking of Edward in some sort of geeky academic utopia. However Edward has informed me that he’s interested in going to study in a big city. I’m now hoping that if he still has this plan after visiting a range of possible universities he’ll be swayed by one particular big city which is also home to his grandparents. I like the idea of him having a safe bolt hole to escape to if it all goes pear shaped.

In some ways we have a much easier task than many. Edward is very sure about what he wants to do. Maths. It’s an obvious choice as he genuinely loves the subject.

Earlier this year I met a friend who has an autistic child who is currently in their first year at university. She kindly let me interogate her about everything I could possibly need to know and was full of really useful advice which I’ll do my best to pass on here.

Top Tips

  • Be proactive: At the open days arrange to meet the Specialist Disability support services at the university and ask them what they do and how they can support your child. Ask them what is already in place for autistic students and find out how they will assess your child’s needs. ________________________________
  • Apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) – You will need some form of documentation saying that your child is autistic. The DSA can provide extra funds to help if the person’s disability causes them additional living/studying costs. So for a student with autism this may mean they can afford to have an en suite bathroom if they struggle to share space with others, or pay for private mentoring or support as needed. For dyslexic students they may get funds to help them get recording equipment. Hearing impaired students would be able to fund having a note taker (you can’t lip read and take notes at the same time!) or pay for interpreters if they use British Sign Language. To be honest I really do not think of Edward as having a disability and find the language a bit problematic. Is he disabled? I think he’s different and in many ways more able than most people. Do we need a new term? Diffabled? Or does that just sound like I’ve developed a speech problem? _____________________________
  • Think about what support would help your child and find out if the university you are considering offers this. Examples include; having access to peer mentors, phased term starts (my friends son started a couple of days before the main student body which meant he could familiarize himself whilst it was still relatively quiet and get to know some of the other students with additional needs as well as his peer mentor). If the student is going to have difficulty advocating for themselves can parents advocate on their behalf?. Will student support talk directly with parents if a problem arises?. Can students be guaranteed quieter accommodation?, What can the university do if there is an issue with the accommodation?_____________________________
  • Before your child leaves home it’s worth having an open and honest discussion about how often you expect to be in touch with them. In my friends case her child wanted a lot of contact with home – more than she expected. In my case I think I may have the opposite problem. I asked Edward how often he planned to be in touch with me once he’d left home and it was obvious he hadn’t given it much thought. He shrugged and suggested a monthly phone call. I’m going to try and renegotiate for more frequent updates (probably more for my sake than his!) ________________________________
  • If leaving home is likely to be too much then consider staying local. We’ll definitely be looking at our nearest university to check out that option but I have a feeling Edward is going to be ready to stretch his wings.

I hope this has been helpful and if you are parenting children who are about to start their GCSEs or A levels (or indeed SATS) then I hope you all keep calm and get through this as smoothly as possible.

Please shareTweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someone