Autism summer school helps young people get to university

The Department of Psychology held a hugely successful summer school for young people on the autism spectrum (ASD) who are applying, or thinking of applying to university.

The Introduction to University life: Summer school for students on the autism spectrum was a three-day residential school for young people with a diagnosis of ASD held on the University campus in September.

Transitions can be particularly difficult for people with ASD, and the school provided a taster of university life, including lectures on how to manage academic work and what the social environment is like.

Small group sessions were also run on stress and anxiety management as well has how to develop and maintain friendships.

The summer school was free to all students thanks to generous support from the Bath Alumni Fund and the Widening Participation Office.

Dr Mark Brosnan, from the Department of Psychology, said the benefits for the students were immense. He said: "The summer school was a huge success. It was amazing to see how well the students coped with university life. They all had a great time and felt they benefited immensely from the experience."

The students experienced living in the University’s halls of residence for two nights and on one night went to the bar and ordered food and a (non-alcoholic!) drink. They also made a meal in the halls of residence and ordered takeaway food.

Guidance was provided by the University Disability Support team as well as external bodies such as the NHS, the health promotion team from the local council and the National Autistic Society.

Major anxieties about leaving home and developing friendships were expressed by students before the school and they said they were significantly more positive about attending university after the school.

Prior to the attending the school 11 out of the 23 students were actively positive about attending university, which increased to 22 out of 23 after the school.

Dr Ailsa Russell, also from the Department of Psychology, said: "The students were all far less anxious and more positive about university after the summer school. We are hoping to follow up the students after six months to find out just how helpful the school was."

Existing students served as 'ambassadors' and they also perceived a very positive response from the ASD students.

One said: "The summer school was extremely important. It provided the perfect opportunity for students to become familiar with navigating a university campus, familiarise themselves with halls of residents and socialise with young people of mixed backgrounds and ages."

One student who attended the school said: "It has actually made me feel proud of having my Asperger's." Another added: "I was quite scared about Freshers' week but now I’m raring to go and wanting to go and do it."

The Department of Psychology is hoping to run the course next year and currently looking for funding.

Beatrice Purser-Hallard of the Department of Development & Alumni Relations thanked the thousands of donors to the University’s Alumni Fund who help events like the summer school to take place.

She said: "We would like to thank all alumni donors who make grants like this possible. Their gifts enhance the student experience and open up more opportunities for accessing the excellent education which the University of Bath offers."

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