University Accomodations

What Universities Do, Don't Do, and Could Do to Help

The following quotes are a sample of opinions and experiences from various university students on the autistic spectrum on what accomodations or special arrangements their universities had provided, or what accomodations they felt might have been helpful. Thanks to everyone who agreed to be quoted.

"I'm very recent in my diagnosis and actually asking for accomodations. The one thing that I have asked for is to be able to do computer-lab work from home and hence not have a lab-partner. The reason for this is that I have great problems in filtering out voices and if I sit in a computerlab full of people working there is no way I can get anything done. I spoke to the disabilities coordinator about this and later it turned out that it wasn't a problem to work the assignments alone, but it seemed as if it was clear that if I had documentation about this problem I should get accomodation for it. My solution to the problem was obviously no hardship for anyone, so I can't vouch for the actual level of this being accepted."

"I guess the whole of my college is an accomodation of a sort being as it is sufficiently small that I am not an insignificant part of a very large and impersonal institution. It is also geared up for disabilities of all kinds.

What I have got from my full time course so far is:

A room on my own for exams complete with computer (this was for my previos course last year as the current one is not exam based)
The right to walk out of any class or lecture if I have the need to chill out
The right to work individually rather than with groups if this is too difficult
Access to support staff if I have a particular crisis (some AS students at my college have an individual mentor)

What have I not been allowed:

Well really that is difficult to say, I have complained on numerous occasions about the way the computers are maintained and the fact that I have to share them with students who are so inexperienced as to mess up all the settings each time, compromising them for people like me who like to get straight down to their work. Nothing has been done to solve this and I have been inconvenienced and stressed out on many occasions because of it. When I did try to complain again most recently I got the response that these would be the same conditions I would meet in industry and it was supposedly an industry based course.

Other things that has stressed me has been degree of disruption and change that goes on in the environment, moving things around the studio which is shared by other groups of students. Again this is not something that my department has much control over as it is a small college with pressures on space.

To add to what I said, last year at this time, I was applying for a university place and much concerned about the transition from small college to large one. There was actually module at the college to aid disabled students in there transition. I had gone so far as to meet with the disabilities officer at the University of my (then) choice to discuss accomodations, I heard however that the Uni did provide volunteer help but from some of the students with Asperger's I heard that this help was not geared to AS as they expected something of a social relationship with the student they were supporting, being more familiar with dyslexia and the kind of support that is needed for that.

We used to hold our meetings at this Uni however when the Uni stopped hiring the room out and would not guarantee the same room each time we wanted one it became apparent that they were not really as understanding or supportive of Asperger's as they claimed to be.

One of the reasons I decided not to proceed with my application (apart from realising the course was not really suited to me) was because of my anticipation of the social difficulties I would again encounter in a large institution (being mindful of having been through this experience before)

I am glad that I was able to stay at the same college because they were offering an equivalent course to the one I wanted to study."

"Kingston University (UK) was very accommodating to my son. When he had to choose a hall of residence in year 1, the special needs co-ordinator suggested those whihc had a sympathetic warden. Because he had special needs Jon was also given the option of staying in hall for the 3 years of his course, rather than have to flat share - this was really useful for him.

As it turned out, he coped without any problems - he was shown at the beginning how to use the laundry and what the kitchen arrangements were and after that we had no problems.

He liked the idea that he could socialise in the kitchen if he felt like it and didn't if he didn't feel like it.

The most useful thing he received from the university was the services of a mentor for 2 hours per week. This was paid for by the Students' Disability Allowance (from the LEA). His mentor was a post-grad student from this department and she helped him to organise his work, sort out deadlines, liaise with other staff and be a general point of reference for him (one of Jon's main problems is that he panics if something new happens). Jon was able to talk to her about anything in the end and the fact that she was there for him was often enough to give him confidence."

"The exam paper should not be white because it hurts my eyes. Therefore it would be helpful to get extra paper in grey or another color which is not hurting and flickering in my eyes all the time. Would increase my concentration level.
I would also prefer an extra room. One time I had an extra room during an exam and I got best grades I ever had, because there was no noise of other students, no pyno interruptions and I could put the lights my way. Extra time would be important too because than I could write down *how* I understand the questions, the different meanings of the exam-questions and could answer them all. I mean, every word has different meanings (it also depends on the context) and for me it is hard to know how it is meant. With extra time I would be able to write down all the possible answers of the different meanings. Then professor would see that I am not stupid and that he or she should give more precise questions, more logical questions."

"I have gone to my college to get my Irlen lens registered as an accomidation. When I get into a begining college class in Spanish...I don't want the teacher to crank down on me for having glasses to hide behind or such....this is to make sure the teacher knows that this is an accomodation, not a rebel cause..."

"Well, since I've chosen not to disclose my diagnosis to the university I don't have any direct accomodations. However, I've found that professors have a great deal of flexibility in many things and have often been able to make classes a bit easier for me to take.

I've been in some exam rooms where the noise was too much for me to function with. I carry earplugs so I can block out noise. I've only had one instructor refuse to allow me to wear them.
In some courses, the instructor has allowed me to work alone on projects rather than as part of a group. In others, the instructor would not allow me to do so--it all depends on the instructor. In cases where I've been able to avoid working with a group, I've usually been expected to do an amount of work equal to that done by a group.

If I were to seek formal accomodations, I do have a pretty good idea of what I would want:

1. No group projects.
2. A _quiet_ room with _no_ interruptions for exams. And always the same room, no more of this switching from place to place (sometimes during the exam).
3. A clear syllabus provided in advance of the semester, and no changes without advance notice.
4. Advance copies of lecture notes, overheads, etc.
5. Requirements for attendance as part of the grade dropped as long as my coursework is adequate. Sometimes I just can't be around people, its too much input and I melt down. (Last semester I had a course where more than two absences resulted in the reduction of my final grade by 10%. The instructor informally waived this requirement for me and based my grade on the work I'd done for the class. Most professors won't do this.)
6. Not having to deal directly, i.e., face-to-face, with professors or instructors to arrange these accomodations.
7. No campus residency requirement. Living in the dormitories strikes me as hell. I was required to do so when I was 18 years old, and I dropped out of college rather than spend another day in the dorms. "

"The two things a university accommodations person needs to know if they really want to help someone with AS are 1) Change is difficult and 2) Social interactions are difficult. These two important things distinguish AS from other disabilities and are often overlooked by university officials.

1) Change is difficult. The beginning of each semester is extremely stressful because everything is changing; there is no familiar structure or routine. For a person with AS, trying to set-up new accommodations at the beginning of the semester on top of everything else may be overwhelming. They will need help. Also, things need to be consistent. Don't just reschedule an exam to a different room at the last minute. I had a person from the disability office call me up at 4:15 on a Friday to tell me that she couldn't find a proctor for my final exam Monday morning so why didn't I **just** go over to her building on the other side of campus to take the exam instead. It was horrible!

2) Social interactions are difficult. A student with AS may need help arranging accommodations with a professor. Don't just give the student a letter with a list of approved accommodations and then expect them to simply sit down and chat with the professor to set-up accommodations. There is nothing simple about a social interaction for someone with AS. The student will need help communicating with the professor about the accommodations.

Here are the accommodations that are essential for me:

1) Videotaping Lectures-- because I can't read what's on the board, take notes, and listen all at the same time

2) Copies of Overheads and Diagrams-- [same reason as with the videotaping] This has been the single most important and useful accommodation for me.

3) Getting an Advanced Copy of the Syllabus (or a rough draft anyway) before the semester begins-- so I can prepare for some of the change in routine and not have it all hit me at once at the beginning of the semester. It also gives me time to arrange to get tape recordings made of any books for the class that aren't already available on tape.

4) Twice the Allotted Test-taking Time-- a necessity for multiple choice exams, especially

5) A Distraction-free (i.e. quiet) Environment for taking Exams-- helps with the auditory sensitivity

6) Books on Tape-- keeps me from getting bogged down in the little details and getting stuck in one paragraph of text."

"I got my own computer because I couldn't work in the computer lab because of the fluorescents. It is a computer with a bigger screen (I have problems with focussing which are more annoying and tiring on a small screen) which is also high quality (because of my light sensitivity, I get terrible headaches with the old screens, most screens are quite good nowadays, though. This was a few years ago).

I could have requested a recording device to record the lecture if I found I couldn't listen and write at the same time or if I couldn't write fast enough to write everything down.

I could have requested extra time during exams because of my slow handwriting.

I don't know of anything else. I had to do a research project and normally one has to do this in groups but because the group was already to big, I was given my own research project. This was entirely by accident but I am quite glad I can do things my own way and don't have to work with other students. I don't know if I would have been given my own project had I asked for it on autism related grounds. I was just lucky, I guess.

When I first went to the dean and told him about my problems with math he said to try to get trough the entrance exam and that if I couldn't get through they would see if there was some way of getting round the obligatory math exam. Luckily I got through, but apperently they were prepared to make an exception if i could prove somehow that I am an analytical thinker but just can't do sums (In the same way that they might make exceptions for dyslexic students). I suppose I could have asked for a logic test. My understanding of logic is very good and I can prove this with test results so I guess they might have accepted a logic test as proof of a good enough analytical capacity to study at university an accepted the fact that my lack of math ability has nothing to do with lack of understanding per se. Or they might have been able to judge from my ways of solving the problem that I go about it in the right way but that my sums always come out strange.

These are the things I could think of. There may be more. If you have trouble writing you could ask if someone would be willing to read your stuff prior to handing it in. I did that for a student who was dyslexic. She knew what she wanted to say in her papers but it didn't always come out in the intended way, so I and some other students read her papers first and then pointed out where she needed to clarify or change stuff. Made all the difference to her final grades. It is not as if we wrote her paper for her, we just pointed out where she hadn't managed to put her understanding of the subject in writing and helped her do so."

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