Leeds Beckett UniA pilot scheme to improve services for students with autism has been launched by Leeds Beckett University. 

Leeds Beckett is the first university to work in partnership with the National Autistic Society to become a Centre of Excellence for assessing students with autism. The pilot scheme was launched on April 2, to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day.  

Speaking ahead of the launch, Kate Dean, disability assessment centre manager at Leeds Beckett, said: “We understand the importance of transition for all students coming to university, but particularly for students with autism. This pilot scheme will allow us to utilise the expertise of specialists within our sector to ensure we are able to offer the best possible service to students in a way that is meaningful for them. Enabling students to identify strategies that can be implemented independently not only allow the student to settle into their chosen area of study, but can also be enhanced throughout university and encourage transition pathways from university into employment.

“We are thrilled to be working with The National Autistic Society in this way but we also want to make sure we consult with students that have used, or would want to use our service. As part of our project, we are looking to create a network of autism champions made up of staff representatives across all services and faculties in our university to raise awareness, disseminate best practice and offer peer support and development for our colleagues for the benefit of all of our students and staff.”

Leeds Beckett University’s Disability Assessment Centre is an established independent assessment centre and the service is available to anyone with a disability, including those with autism, studying in the local area or living locally and studying at any higher education [HE] institution in the UK. The centre helps students to access the government-funded Disabled Students’ Allowance, which provides help for any additional costs such as specialised equipment and software, to provide a non-medical helper or to help with accommodation or travel costs. In recent years Leeds Beckett has seen a 20% year-on-year increase in students declaring autism, including Asperger syndrome.  

The pilot scheme will also build on existing related research that is currently being undertaken at Leeds Beckett. In October 2014, a team of researchers won a European grant for a 3-year project entitled ‘Autism&Uni’ which seeks to identify potential barriers into higher education and ways of overcoming them. 

Researcher Dr Marc Fabri, who is leading the Autism&Uni project and is the pilot’s first ‘Autism Champion’, explained: “Students on the autism spectrum are under-represented in HE. Those who do embark on a university course can find the transition particularly challenging and do not complete their degree. Typical challenges faced are false expectations of what HE study is like, social isolation, anxiety and depression. Receiving personalised support right from the start is critical and can make a huge difference to the student’s wellbeing and success in their studies.”