This article introduces the advantages of being open about your autism, and give some practical tips on how to do this.
In the past, your parents, teachers or other people might have done most of the talking on your behalf – they knew all about you and could help explain to other people how your autism spectrum condition affected you socially and educationally.
90% of parents in our Autism&Uni survey said they had to advocate for their children so they could receive the support they need at school. Students in the surveys said they find it difficult to explain difficulties related to their autism, which might partly be because before uni other people were on hand to do it for them.
“I’m always afraid of being turned away or not being able to explain myself well, or being misunderstood and having that change the way I’m treated.” (Autism&Uni survey response)
So it’s really important to think about not just who you tell or how, but also what information you want to tell people, and how comfortable you feel with explaining your needs.
How could this affect me?
What do other people want to/need to know?
Different people need to know different things about your autism at different times – just telling them you have the condition doesn’t give them enough information to understand how your autism impacts on you.
In order to access the full range of support at University, you may need to explain your autism and any support needs you have to a number of different people, including your Course Leader, Study Needs Assessor, Mentor, Careers Advisers. You may also need to do this with other external practitioners e.g. General Practitioner (GP) or another Health Professionals who may need to give written confirmation of your autism so it is helpful if you can provide details to them.
At university, your Disability Adviser may write a Reasonable Adjustment Plan advising your tutors of the impact of your autism and adjustments they need to make to enable you to access and participate in your studies. However, you may find it useful to talk to your tutors, and supplement this information with your own explanation. If academic staff know how autism affects your learning and what might make you less anxious, especially if you tell them in plenty of time, they’re more likely to be able to help you. You need to be specific, and your disability adviser can help you come up with strategies you can share.
You may also want to explain your autism to your friends. They don’t need to know about the definition of autism, but it might help to speak to them if you are anxious around social events, react in certain ways, experience sensory sensitivity, or have certain things you need to do in order to feel comfortable, and it means you don’t have to pretend to be someone else around them.
A student told us about her experience of telling her friends:
“Because they are aware I feel slightly more like I can be myself instead of trying to fit in although I also think it helps them accept slight differences.
For social stuff it helps as they are aware they can’t just text me and see if I’m free then but should give me several days’ notice – which is nothing personal towards them, it’s just I can’t just be social instantly.
It also helps that if we meet up to do something they know I can’t cope with loud noises, crowds, lights etc. and will ‘switch off’ in these occasions. “
What to do next?
Talk about your autism with people you can trust
Even if somebody knows about autism and Asperger Syndrome, it doesn’t mean they know how this affects you or that they are aware of the strengths you have, as well as challenges you may be experiencing.
It will be helpful to think of any challenges you encounter in the following situations and any strategies or support you have found beneficial in enabling you to manage those challenges. Think about:
Communication and social interaction
- Meeting and talking to new people
- Asking for help, explaining what you need or expressing your point
- Joining in with small talk and conversations
- Understanding unwritten social rules and what is expected in a social situation
- Fear or panic of being around others
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Judging others reactions
- Working as part of a team/group
Flexibility of thought
- Understanding what others are thinking or feeling
- Dealing with unexpected changes to daily routine
- Dealing with new situations
Sensory sensitivities – Hypo or hyper sensitivity to any of the following:
- Light e.g. fluorescent light
- Sound e.g. tapping pens, chewing
- Touch e.g. material, heat/cold
- Smell e.g. food, perfume
- Accessing new places
- Using public transport
- Following directions
- Understanding timetables and finding classrooms
- Most enjoyable aspects of school/college
- Greatest challenges at school/college
- Any support you accessed at school/college e.g. adjustments for exams or a support worker
- Learning new skills e.g. learning how to write an essay, how to use a piece of software
- Concentration and focus
- Completing assignments and exams e.g. planning and structuring work, expressing ideas in writing
- Preferred working environment e.g. home, library
- Attendance or accessing classes at school/college
- Organising and planning your workload
- Motor skills affecting typing/handwriting
It is also really important to share with others your strengths and skills. Think about:
- What you enjoy doing
- What you are good at
- Skills gained at school/college/university
- Skills gained through work experience
- Your Hobbies and Interests
Personal Attributes – which of the following qualities represent you?
- Excellent memory (i.e. ability to recall details/retain information from revision/research)
- Ability to see thinks from different perspectives
- Visual thinker
- Attention to detail and need for accuracy
- Problem solving skills
- Researching skills
- Honest and authentic
- Good levels of concentration and focus
- Reliable and punctual
- Outcomes focused
- Quick to learn new things
- Ability to follow instructions
- Methodical and systematic
- Good presentation or verbal skills
- Technical skills and ability
- Diligent and conscientious
- Ability to identify where improvements can be made
- Ability to work well in a team
Additional information and links
This guidance is intended to assist you in explaining your autism. If you would like some help to create a profile that explains your autism, please contact your Disability Adviser at: firstname.lastname@example.org