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what support could be helpful

Many students with ASD need additional support for their tertiary studies. It is important to know that you have a right to ask for help and adjustments that will help you participate in education and training.

your rights

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) aims to protect the rights of people with disability, and to ensure that they are treated as fairly as people without disability. The Disability Standards for Education outlines the rights of students and the responsibilities of education and training institutions to abide by this Act. Under these standards all education providers, including universities and TAFEs must consult, make reasonable adjustments and eliminate harassment and victimisation.

Consulting includes discussions with you about what type of support and adjustments could assist you in your studies. It also includes meeting with you to check that the supports in place are working well, and make any changes if required.

An adjustment is reasonable if it supports your learning needs and also does not place undue hardship on other students, staff and the education provider.

Education providers are also obligated to have strategies in place to prevent the harassment of students with disability. 

course requirements

Universities and TAFEs need to ensure that reasonable adjustments do not threaten the core or essential requirements of a course. These are called inherent requirements, and students must meet these in order to complete a course or unit. Assessment tasks should be based on the inherent requirements of the course. The inherent requirements of a course are not always clear. You have a right to question how a given assessment task measures the inherent requirements of a course. If it does not, you then have a right to ask for an alternative assessment task if an assessment task is not appropriate for your learning needs.

Example 1: The course assessment includes a group assignment. However, the social interactions of groups are too challenging for you. If the ability to work as part of a group is not an inherent requirement of the course, you can ask for an alternative assessment task. But if teamwork is an inherent course requirement, then you will need to be assessed on working as part of a team.

Example 2: The subject assessment requires students to do a presentation to the whole class. If public speaking or presentation skills are not inherent requirements of the course, you can ask for an alternative assessment. You may be able to present to your teacher only, or a small group, or by a video presentation.

support services

Students with disability, including ASD, have the right to specialised student support services to assist with participation in their course. They also have the right to access general student support services on the same basis as students without a disability.

Most university and TAFE campuses have disability support staff who support students with disability to access reasonable adjustments they may require for their study. They will work with you to develop a Learning Access Plan (LAP) or Reasonable Adjustment Plan (RAP) that outlines what learning supports your university or TAFE can put in place for you. You can ask for your LAP or RAP to be reviewed or changed at any time.

disclosing your disability

You will need to tell the disability support services about your ASD if you want a LAP or RAP to assist with your studies. You may also need to provide documentation about your condition from a health professional. Disclosing your disability is a personal decision.

Students who decide not to disclose may do this because:

  • They fear they may be discriminated against.
  • They don’t like being referred to as having a disability.
  • They don’t think they will need reasonable adjustments.
  • They think if they receive additional support they will be seen as different from others.
  • They are worried about what might happen to their personal information.

benefits of disclosing

There are many advantages to disclosing. Many students with ASD are much more successful with their tertiary studies once they have disclosed and sought appropriate assistance.

It is therefore recommended that you consider the benefits of disclosure very carefully:

  • You will be able to discuss your specific learning needs and options for reasonable adjustments with disability support staff.
  • It will help university or TAFE staff understand your learning style.
  • Supports can be put in place to help you with your studies.
  • The personal information you provide to disability support services about your ASD is protected under the Privacy Act. As you are an adult over 18 years of age, the university or TAFE must ensure that the information you provide to them will be kept confidential.
  • You will have the right to decide who else gets the information, and will need to give written consent for your information to be shared with anyone else (including your parents).
  • Even if you feel confident about your ability to succeed in studies with minimum support, it is beneficial to disclose so that if any issues arise, the disability support staff are aware of your situation.
  • Disability support staff can help you plan for future circumstances, such as sitting exams.
  • Often additional support can be provided to you in such a way that other students are not aware that you are receiving this service.

From 2015, NSW TAFE students who wish to access funded disability support MUST disclose their disability at time of enrolment. Unfortunately, there is no specific ASD identifier on the enrolment checklist, so you are advised to check the ‘Learning Disability and Other’ box, and to indicate that you wish to have contact with a Teacher Consultant.

peter's story...

Peter had been doing TAFE courses for about 18 months but had not completed any subjects. Peter’s teacher asked him if he would like some support organised. Peter gave permission for contact to be made with his mother. Peter’s mother was unaware that he was struggling with his studies. She disclosed that Peter had ASD. Peter was unaware of his diagnosis as his mother had not explained it to him.

Tutorial support was organised and Peter caught up and has now nearly completed his course. He is happy and has started interacting with other students both inside and outside class time.

Since gaining information and self-awareness of his ASD, Peter is now better at asking for assistance when he needs it. His disclosure has also helped teachers understand when and how Peter learns best. Peter is also happier knowing who he is, identifying the positives and celebrating his differences. This self-advocacy and disclosure now helps him stay on track with his studies.

assistance provided

Here are some examples of what you may need help with and what reasonable adjustments or other assistance may be available from your university or TAFE. Highlight the ones that might be useful for you so that you can discuss them with support staff. Look back at the exercise you completed in knowing your strengths and challenges for some ideas.

    question & answer

    Question: I am enrolled at university full-time doing 4 subjects. I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed by the workload. Someone has suggested that I withdraw from one subject and only study 3 subjects. Is this advisable?
    Answer: If you find that studying 4 subjects is overwhelming, it is advisable to study 3 subjects. You will still be regarded as a full-time student. Studying 3 subjects will give you more time to become familiar with the requirements of tertiary study. It therefore can be a good idea for the first one or two semesters. You can always decide to increase your enrolment to four subjects in subsequent semesters. However, it is important to know that if you drop a subject after the university Census dates there will be academic penalties and a financial cost for the subject.

    Question: I received some learning assistance through high school. I am now enrolled at TAFE and have seen the disability support staff to discuss my ASD. I would like to try studying with no extra help. Do I have to use the support offered to me?
    Answer: No, it is your choice to use the services and support offered through disability support services. It is good that you have already seen the disability support staff; therefore, if any issues arise, staff are aware that you have ASD and this can make getting support easier and quicker if required.

    who can help?

    • Student services on your campus
    • Disability support staff

    more information