Supporting Autistic Tertiary Learners: Top Tips

Image of three diverse university tutors looking at a laptop.

 

We have identified ten top tips to help tertiary educators and staff better support autistic learners. These tips cut across the themes: for example, access to lecture recordings helps learners who cannot attend class on campus due to anxiety or sensory difficulties, and also makes the material more accessible for learners who struggle with note taking due to executive function difficulties.

Remember that these tips help all learners, not just autistic learners. All learners benefit from access to lecture recordings, for example. There are also many self-identified or undiagnosed autistic learners who would benefit from support but may be unable to access this without an official diagnosis. By building as many supports as possible into the way the course is taught and assessed, you give all learners the best chance of success in tertiary education.

 

  1. Listen to what each individual learner needs. Not everyone has a diagnosis. Diagnoses are difficult to access as an adult and learners who did not get a diagnosis in childhood still need support. Rather than making exceptions/accommodations only when required to do so because a learner has a diagnosis, recognise the individual need of diverse learners.
  2. Be openly accepting of difference and recognise that every autistic person is different and may have different needs. Encourage awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity.
  3. Offer different options and accommodations around tutorials, assessments, and exams. Think about group work – is it essential? Can you offer different options? If group work is a non-negotiable part of your course, think about ways you can make it less stressful and more reflective of the real world. What exam accommodations does the individual need, and can these be implemented, even if they are not standard accommodations offered by student support? Can tutorials be offered in different formats (e.g., on campus, on Zoom, via discussion board)?
  4. Always make lecture recordings available online. Access to lecture recordings helps with so many of the challenges autistic learners face. They allow learners to catch up if anxiety or burnout prevents them from attending class in person. That means learners can watch lectures from an environment that meets their sensory needs. They help students who have difficulties with executive function- being able to pause and rewind the lecture makes taking notes easier.
  5. Ensure all communication is clear. Present written and verbal communication in a manner that works for the autistic learner (this might be different for different learners) and is understood by the learner. Understand that your message may not have been communicated clearly even if the person seems to understand, and confirm their understanding by asking follow-up questions.
  6. Validate the need for flexibility around supports and needs. Work with the learner to identify what works best for them, and work with them to help them meet the requirements of the course in a way that works for them.
  7. Encourage and normalise the use of sensory aides in all places, including exams.
  8. Encourage disclosure. Autistic people may be uncomfortable with sharing their diagnosis/es, so utmost care and privacy is important to ensure the best outcomes. Being openly accepting to difference can encourage sharing. Support learners to access accommodations regardless of diagnosis. Listen to what learners say would help them. Encourage your organisation to support learners whether they have a diagnosis or not.
  9. Recognise sensory needs. The tertiary learning environment may be difficult for some learners. They may find lecture theatres overwhelming or spaces noisy. They may only be able to cope with being there for a short time or may not be able to learn in that space. Recognise and make allowances for this, for example by allowing the person to leave if they need to, providing information in other ways, and making use of sensory profiles.
  10. Recognise executive functioning difficulties and offer supports around these.

 

Image of two young Maori boys standing on a marae

Ngā Tino Whakamōhio 

Kua tautohu mātou i ētahi tino whakamōhio tekau hei āwhina i ngā kaikauhau me ngā kaiwhakaako ki te tautoko i ā rātou ākonga whaitakiwātanga. Ka whiti ēnei whakamōhio i te whānuitanga o ngā kaupapa: hei tauira, te āheinga o ngā hopunga kauhau ki te āwhina i ngā ākonga kāore e taea te tae ā-tinana ki te akomanga nā te manawapā, ngā taumahatanga tairongo rānei, kia māmā ake ai hoki ngā kauhau mō ngā ākonga he uaua ki a rātou te tuhi kupu tīpoka nā te taumaha o te whakahaere whaiaro.  

Kia maumahara tātou, ka āwhina ēnei whakamōhio i ngā ākonga katoa, ehara ko ngā ākonga whaitakiwātanga anake. Hei tauira, he āwhina nui ki ngā ākonga katoa te āhei ki te toro atu ki ngā hopunga kauhau. Arā atu anō te tokomaha tāngata kāore anō kia whakatauria he whaitakiwātanga rātou, nā rātou anō i whakatau rānei, ka whai painga i te tautoko, engari kāore pea e taea te toro atu nā te kore whakataunga haumanu ōkawa. Mā te hanga o te maha o ngā tautāwhi e taea ana, i ngā whakahaere o te akomanga me ngā aromatawai, ka piki te angitu o ngā ākonga katoa e whai ana i te mātauranga matua. 

 

  1. Whakarongo ki ngā kōrero o ia ākongaōna hiahia . Kāore he whakataunga o te katoa: he uaua te whiwhi ki ngā whakataunga mō ngā pakeke me ngā ākonga kāore i whakataungia i te wā e tamariki ana, engari e tika ana kia tautoko atu i a rātou. Mahue kē te tangongi/whakangāwari ina kua herea nā te whiwhinga o te ākonga ki te whakataunga, engari me tautoko ngā matea whaiaro o ngā ākonga kanorau. 
  2. Kia tuwhera ki te whakamana i te rerekētanga kia āhukahuka hoki he rerekē tēnā tāngata whaitakiwātanga ki tēnā, ka rerekē hoki pea ngā matea. Whakahaua te āhukahuka me te ngākaupai ki te kanorau ā-roro. 
  3. Tukuna ngā kōwhiringa me ngā ara tautoko e pā ana ki ngā akoranga, ngā aromatawai, ngā whakamātautau hoki. Whakaarohia te mahi ā-rōpū – he mea waiwai tērā, ka tika? Ka taea te tāpae ētahi atu kōwhiringa? Mēnā kāore he kōwhiringa mō te mahi ā-rōpū i tō akoranga, whakaarohia ngā ara hei whakaheke i te tāmitanga, kia kaha ake te whakaata i te ao tūturu. He aha ngā whakangāwari whakamātautau ka matea e te kiritahi, ka taea rānei te whakatinana, ahakoa ehara pea i te whakangāwari māori ka tukuna ai e te rōpū tautoko ākonga? Ka taea te whakaako mā ngā momo akoranga kē (hei tauira: kei te akomanga, kei runga Zoom, kei tētahi papa kōrero ā-ipurangi rānei)? 
  4. Me whakaū ki te tuku i ngā hopunga kauhau katoa ki te ipurangi. – Ko te āhei ki te toro atu ki ngā hopunga kauhau he āwhina nui mō te maha o ngā wero e pā atu ana ki ngā ākonga whaitakiwātanga. Nā tērā ka taea e ngā ākonga te mahi te whakatutuki, ki te āraia te taenga atu ā-tinana e te manawapā, e te whakapaunga kaha rānei. Ka taea e ngā ākonga te mātakitaki i ngā kauhau i te wāhi e tika ana mō ō rātou matea tairongo. Ka āwhina hoki i ngā ākonga kua uaua te whakahaere whaiaro – ka taea te pupuri, te whakahoki rānei i te hopunga kauhau, kia ngāwari ai te tuhi kupu tīpoka. 
  5. Whakaūgia kia mārama rawa ngā whakawhitinga kōrero katoa. Tukuna ngā tuhinga me ngā kōrero ā-waha kia pai te hanga mō te ākonga whaitakiwātanga (ka rerekē pea tēnei mō ngā ākonga rerekē), kia whai mārama hoki te ākonga. Kia mārama koe, ka uaua pea te whakawhiti kōrero, ā, ahakoa ki tō tirohanga atu, kua mārama te tangata, me hihira koe kua mārama rātou. 
  6. Whakaūgia ngā whakaritenga mō te pīngore o ngā ara tautoko, ngā matea hoki. Mahi i te taha o te ākonga, ki te tūtohi i ngā mea e tika ana māna, ā, mahi tahi hoki ki te āwhina i a ia ki te whakatutuki i ngā herenga o te akoranga mā ngā tikanga e pai ana mōna. 
  7. Whakahaua, whakapikitia te whakamahi i ngā taputapu tairongo ki ngā wāhi katoa, tae ana ki ngā whakamātautau. 
  8. Whakahaua te whakapuakitanga. Ka anipā pea ngā tāngata whaitakiwātanga ki te whakaatu i t/ō rātou whakataunga nā reira he mea hiranga te āta tiaki, te āta tūmataiti hoki kia whakaū ai he pai rawa atu ngā otinga. Mā te whakaae ki te rerekētanga, te whakaatu e whakamanawa.Tautokona ngā ākonga kia whiwhi whakamāmātanga ahakoa te whakataunga haumanu. Whakarongo ki ngā kōrero a ngā ākonga mō ngā mea e āwhina i a rātou. Whakahaua tō tari ki te tautoko i ngā ākonga, ahakoa he whakataunga ōkawa, kāore rānei. 
  9. Āhukahuka i ngā matea tairongo. He uaua pea te ako ki ngā whare mātauranga matua mō ētahi o ngā ākonga, tērā pea ka haukerekere ngā wāhi kauhau, ka hoihoi rānei ngā wāhi. Tēnā pea ka taea e rātou te noho ki taua wāhi mō te wā poto noa, kāore pea e taea rānei e rātou te ako ki taua wāhi. Āhukahuka kia manawanui hoki ki ērā, hei tauira, tukuna te tangata kia wehe atu mēnā e hiahia ana, tukuna ngā pārongo mā etahi atu ara anō, whakamahia ngā mahere tairongo hoki.  
  10. Āhukahuka i ngā uauatanga whakahaere whaiaro, ā, tukuna he tautoko e hāngai ana. 

 

Thank you to our contributors.

 

Timothy Folkema

Timothy Folkema

Timothy Folkema is an autistic person and a member of the Altogether Autism Consumer Advisory Group. He continually works to share the voice of autistic people and make positive ground-breaking changes for the Autistic communities of Aotearoa New Zealand, working with many organisations to achieve this.

 

 

 

Dancer Rachael Wiltshire. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

Dancer Rachael Wiltshire. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court. COPYRIGHT ©Stephen A’Court

Rachael Wiltshire is an autistic person and a member of the Altogether Autism Consumer Advisory Group. She is passionate about increasing societal awareness of neurodiversity and designing systems that are flexible enough to meet everyone’s individual needs. She is particularly interested in education and enjoys working with other neurodivergent students in a peer support and tutoring capacity.

 

Rebekah Corlett

Rebekah Corlett

Rebekah Corlett, MNZM is a member of the Altogether Autism Consumer Advisory Group. She has an autistic daughter, Sophia, 13, who has limited verbal communication and uses an Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) device to communicate.