A collaborative effort between advocacy and support groups for people who have autism or Asperger’s syndrome has begun working on establishing the first autism-friendly college campus at Dublin City University (DCU).
The initiative to create Ireland’s first autism-friendly campus will come with the creation of an 18-month programme created with the help of AsIAm.ie, an autism support and advocacy service, and Specialisterne Ireland, a specialist recruitment and support agency for people with autism, as well as DCU.
The need for such a service is paramount, the organisations say, due to the very nature of third-level education, which focuses on the independence of the student to further their studies, compared with the more supportive structure seen at secondary and primary level.
Even if they are to continue on into a job capacity following their degree, autistic students or those with Asperger’s can find it very difficult to translate their academic credentials into a job interview or work environment without the right nurturing and preparation.
It is groups’ opinion that there is a considerable lack of awareness and understanding of autism amongst peers and teaching staff in many universities, potentially leading to isolation, misunderstanding and bullying of a person with autism or Asperger’s.
“The aim of this project is to help students with autism transition to third level and ultimately to independence by creating a more inclusive atmosphere in college, and helping with their transition to employment,” said AsIAm.ie’s founder, Adam Harris, about the initiative. “Our programme will help assess students’ abilities and areas of strength while they are still in college and provide training to undertake work experience, to ensure students with autism access the same opportunities as their peers. The outcome will be a model of inclusion and successful transition suitable for universities throughout Ireland.”
Unemployment rates of 80pc
Currently, DCU President Professor Brian MacCraith said, the unemployment rate for people on the autism spectrum is at an incredibly high level at around 80pc.
“This is a loss not just to the individuals, but to the employers who miss out on a cohort of talented and qualified people,” he said. “This programme will include autism-friendly internships that if implemented nationally could lead to employment for up to 400 students each year.”
Throughout the 18-month programme, Specialisterne will focus on establishing a more structured response to the difficulties experienced by young adults with autism as they begin the transition into the world of work, as well as employment assessment, preparation and support services to those undergraduates placed in industry.
Having received funding worth €50,000 from the Dormant Accounts Fund, the project will begin with an extensive consultation period from January to May 2016.
During this time, the organisers will collate data on the current experience of students with autism on DCU campuses, the level of awareness among the staff and student bodies and establish target goals for DCU to meet to receive autism-friendly campus designation.