What Is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong spectrum ‘disorder’ or ‘condition’* related to differences in the way the brain develops. An individual on the autism spectrum is affected to different degrees and in different ways. People on the autism spectrum are all unique - the characteristics identified below vary from person to person. ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ used to be treated as a distinct diagnosis but is now included under the broader umbrella term ‘Autism spectrum’.
Autism Student Infographic
Sometimes echoey lecture halls, machinery noises in labs, even typing in computer rooms can be overwhelming for many with sensory issues. Please be patient with them as they may need to take breaks from the noises, wear headphones/ear defenders/earplugs, or do anything else that helps us cope.
Masking means concealing certain autistic behaviours to appear more neurotypical. It can be exhausting and extremely stressful! But many often feel they have to do it because otherwise they'll be judged for "weird" behaviours like stimming (See below). University should be a safe space where we all don't have to mask.
A lot of the time, people with autism can feel/act awkward because they don't know/understand the unspoken "rules" of social interactions. Don't judge people for acting different from how "normal" people do, they're doing what they're most comfortable with!
"I greatly appreciate the attitude my personal tutor has towards my disability which is talking about it as any other topic- not going out of his way to be clearly uncomfortable or avoid mentioning it altogether, but also not being overly sensitive or patronising about it. he is very straightforward about it, which I feel is very good practice". - Warwick Student
“I quickly become overwhelmed [in social situations]. Is it surprising that I then feel like blocking the world out and literally putting my thoughts back in order? That I start to rock to tell myself which feelings are mine? That I start speaking to myself or groaning to block out other sounds and so that I know which thoughts are mine? I think anyone experiencing life this way would do the same.” - Johnny (University Student)
What is Stimming?
Stimming or self-stimulating behaviour includes arm or hand-flapping, finger-flicking, rocking, jumping, spinning or twirling, head-banging and complex body movements. It includes the repetitive use of an object, such as flicking a rubber band or twirling a piece of string, or repetitive activities involving the senses (such as repeatedly feeling a particular texture).
Should You Intervene?
Stimming is often very enjoyable and a way for students to reduce stress and so it shouldn't be stopped or reduced. However, stimming can sometimes be self-injurious, for example, head-banging or scratching.
Ask yourself if the behaviour restricts the students opportunities, causes distress or discomfort, or impacts on learning? If it is causing difficulties, or is in some way unsafe, they may need support to stop or modify the behaviour, or reduce their reliance on it.
Read More - Autism
Useful Links Below
Warwick Student Union
Alice's Blog (The Boar)
My Autism Experience in University Video