Supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Higher Education
The University of Tasmania has received funding from the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) for an innovative multi-disciplinary research project that explores the unique experiences of a growing population of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The School of Architecture & Design's Acting Head Dr Ceridwen Owen will be chief investigator and will be joined by University colleagues Damhnat McCann from the School of Health Sciences, Dr Christopher Rayner from the Faculty of Education, Dr Lyndsay Quarmby from the Centre for Rural Health and Carol Devereaux and Fiona Sheehan from Disability Services.
The project is also supported by Mary Brake, autism consultant from the Department of Education, and Darlene McLennan, manager of the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Disability and Education.
One of the key aspects of the project is to investigate the impact of the built environment on the experience of students with ASD.
"The design of the built environment is not often considered as part of a framework of support," Dr Owen said.
"However, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder can experience many difficulties including sensory overload and confusion in navigating even apparently familiar environments.
"Even what most people think of as the quiet, calming environment of a library can be overwhelming for someone on the autism spectrum and affect their ability to study.
"We can't solve everything through design, but we need to understand how the built environment impacts on their experience and where we can make changes to make it easier for students with autism spectrum disorder to more fully participate in academic and social life at university." (Dr Owen)
The study will involve current students with ASD at the University who will record their experiences using photovoice, where data is gathered through photographs taken by the participants combined with in-depth interviews. The study will also investigate holistic disability support models and innovations in learning and teaching to support students on the autism spectrum.