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Disability Specific Adjustments: Autism Spectrum Condition

Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a life-long developmental disability.  The cause or causes of autism are, as yet, unknown. The developmental disability impairs (to varying degrees) a person's understanding of what he or she sees, hears and senses. This results in problems with social relationships, communication and behaviour.

People with ASC may have average or above-average intelligence but they can find the post-secondary education experience daunting and challenging.  However, many  students have successful experiences in a range of subjects, most commonly in mathematics and computing.  

Impact of ASC

Whilst the condition varies considerably for each and every student with ASC, there is a number of characteristics that may be evident. These include:

  • ability for extensive factual information
  • development of a specialised interest in a specific topic
  • advanced vocabulary in a particular topic
  • exceptional memory for detail
  • a natural affinity for computers
  • original and creative thought patterns
  • very independent approach to learning.

However,  students with ASC may also exhibit the following characteristics in the learning environment:

  • weakness in comprehension and abstract thought, problem solving, organisational skills, concept development, and in making inferences and judgements
  • difficulty with cognitive flexibility, tending to think in a more linear way: thinking tends to be rigid; difficulty adapting to change or failure and not able to readily learn from mistakes
  • tendency to take language literally; confused by non-literal sayings (e.g. 'get off my back', 'pull your weight'); respond in a way that seems rude
  • difficulty coping with change - preoccupation with a particular subject of interest which may have been learnt by rote, obsessions or routines which interfere with learning
  • experiences anxiety - even minor stress may cause increase in coping mechanisms such as repetitive behaviours (muttering, other verbal habits), panic, incessant questioning
  • problems with social relationships - difficulty making and keeping friends. In group situations may behave in ways that seem ‘odd’ to others and may come across as arrogant, rude or withdrawn
  • inability to pick up on non-verbal cues; poor eye contact; lack of understanding of sarcasm or irony, people’s moods and feelings
  • difficulty in understanding or communicating feelings - may be unable to predict or understand others’ behaviour (in group work may not naturally consider other people’s wishes or needs)
  • difficulty interpreting and understanding social situations and communication cues
  • poor organisational skills,  poor coordination, clumsiness, odd postures and poor gross motor skills
  • speech which is pedantic and monotonic  
  • overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells and sights, even sensory stimuli that others may not perceive.

Disability Practitioner Strategies

There are a range of services and equipment that are commonly facilitated by Disability Practitioners as reasonable adjustments for students with Autism Spectrum Condition.  

These include:

  • Access to peer note takers
  • Provision of recorded lectures or professional note takers
  • Access to Student Access Study Centre
  • Access to speech recognition Assistive Technology
  • Access to Assistive Technology or scribe  in examinations
  • Arranging the provision of specific tutorial allocations
  • Arranging a case management service to support engagement with study and assess regular progress
As a disability practitioner it may be helpful to be aware of inclusive teaching and assessment strategies that can assist all students. ADCET has identified some specific strategies that may be useful for students with Autism Spectrum Condition.