The number of students disclosing an autism diagnosis has increased 60pc since Dublin City University (DCU) became “autism -friendly”.
A growing number of staff with autism are also contacting the project seeking support, information, and advice the Oireachtas committee on autism today.
DCU has become the world’s first designated autism-friendly university in 2018, when it introduced a range of supports for students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Fiona Early, who co-ordinates the project at DCU, told the committee that the response from students and staff may indicate that individuals with autism are more comfortable about disclosing their diagnosis because of the ethos of the project and/or potentially indicating that more students with autism now attend DCU because of it.
Ms Early said disclosure opens pathways of support and the initiative was developing further in response to demand from staff with autistim.
She told the committee that another key objective was to address the sensory challenges of campus for students and staff with an autism diagnosis
“Autistic students and staff described it as sensorially challenging with significant impact on their ability to concentrate,” she said.
DCU has published the Autism Friendly University Design Guide, to assist with the assessment and adjustment of current spaces across all third-level campuses and to provide guidance for any future builds.
She said as the number of students disclosing an autism diagnosis was increasing annually there was a growing need for more supports and services, particularly sensory friendly spaces, academic and social supports, and mentorship programmes.
“The early 2000’s was the point where autism diagnoses spiked. Almost 20 years later, this ‘peak cohort’ has progressed through primary and secondary level education.
"They now find themselves ready for a higher education that is unfortunately often unprepared for them,” she said.
DCU declared its intention to become autism-friendly after a meeting between Adam Harris of the advocacy organisation, AsIAm and then DCU president Professor Brian MacCraith