Every year, two and a half thousand young people with autism start out on university life. Faced with the additional challenges their condition may bring, the experience can be overwhelming; drop-out rates are much higher among the autistic student population than their neurotypical peers. With support or inclusive practice, however, students with autism can excel in higher education.
A team of facilitators from the The National Autistic Society (NAS) will be working with Brain in Hand to give people with autism the vital support needed to realise their potential.
Installed on their phone, Brain in Hand enables each student to access personalised coping strategies when and where they need them. Whether it’s a change of course schedule, sensory issues triggered by a crowded space, or anxieties caused by social situations, they can go to their Brain in Hand app and immediately remind themselves of the solutions that work best for them.
If additional help is needed, there’s also a ‘red button’ feature, giving the option to request urgent assistance from the NAS facilitators. This is a vital part of the system: it helps a student receive the attention they need when they need it most, not just when they are scheduled to see a member of the university support team.
One student, Dagmawit Mekuria, a 22-year-old from London, has just completed her first year of a Foundation Degree in Inclusive Performance. She studies at Chickenshed Theatre Company, in partnership with Middlesex University, and is one of the students using Brain in Hand. Dagmawit shares her experience:
“There are many aspects of University life I find challenging. For example, I find changes to rehearsal plans without warning hard to deal with. Expressing my ideas in workshops is tough, and many aspects of social life can leave me feeling extremely anxious.
“Brain in Hand has helped me to solve all sorts of problems by myself, which has really built my confidence. For example, I have an issue with eye contact when I talk with friends. To solve this, I plan in advance what I can say to a person, which is something I put into my Brain in Hand.
“It has also helped me to clarify and record which situations make me the most anxious. I most like the traffic light system, knowing that a facilitator is able to always see how I am feeling, be aware of what problems I am facing, and how my solutions have made me feel on that day.”
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