Telling the University about your autism | Autism Toolkit
Additional support and disability advice
We’re talking about disclosure here because so many students don’t tell anybody at university about their autism, not even the university itself.
Not disclosing makes it difficult for students to get the support they need, both officially and from their friends and the other people around them. At school or college, you might not have received or even needed any support outside your family. However, university is very different from school and college and the help available can level the playing field so you can concentrate on enjoying your time at university and doing well on your course.
What do we mean by disclosure?
‘Disclosure’ in this context means telling people at the university that you have a disability. You might not consider your autism to be a disability, but that’s how organisations like universities recognise that you may have some additional needs. The declaration prompts the university to make contact with you in order to explore any needs you may have and the support options available to you. Telling the university you have autism does not mean that you have to tell everyone you meet if you don’t want to, and it doesn't mean that you will be forced to accept support you don’t want or need.
Disclosure and accessing support
Disclosure is a necessary part of getting academic and/or financial support for any issues you might face related to your autism.
Whether or not you apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and get additional academic support to help with your studies, the University needs to know that you have an autistic spectrum condition in order to make any ‘reasonable adjustments’. If you think you may need adjustments to exams or the learning process, you need to tell the University.
To find out more about the academic support available and to consider what, if any, adjustments are required, it is essential you contact the Additional Support and Disability Advice team, ASDAC (contact details below). This will ensure the best possible university experience. Even if you decide not to declare prior to your arrival at university or when starting your studies, you can contact ASDAC by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org at any point throughout your studies.
How could this affect me?
Why do some students decide not to disclose?
Many autistic students don’t identify as disabled, so they don’t tick the disability box on the UCAS form or any other paperwork.
Even if they never need support or reasonable adjustments, it’s helpful for the university to know how many autistic students they have so they can take the needs of people on the spectrum into account when designing and updating buildings, courses and services.
If you’d like to read more about reasons students gave us for not disclosing and how one University disability team responded, read Kate Dean’s article (Kate is Disability Advice Manager at Leeds Beckett University).
What happens when students don’t disclose?
Autistic students are more likely than other students to drop out of university, and this number rises for those who aren’t open about their autism.
When we surveyed people with experience of attending and/or completing university, over 70% said they never told anyone they were autistic. Some of them were not diagnosed until after university. Students who were diagnosed before or during university and disclosed their autism were more likely to finish their course and get good grades.
Those students who dropped out told us it was because they realise now they needed support with some aspects of university.
Even though in general they got good marks when they submitted work, they struggled to manage on their own, especially early in the course. They felt that they were unintentionally bullied or excluded by other students, who would have been more understanding if they knew that they had autism.
Several students who dropped out went back and completed university later, and they had a better experience because people knew they were autistic and they were able to access support and get on better socially.
Is disclosing your diagnosis a good idea?
If you get support early, preferably from the start of course or even before you arrive, settling into university is a lot easier.
Starting university is an exciting time, but like any change is stressful for anyone. It can be particularly stressful if you are on the autistic spectrum because it involves so much uncertainty. It’s also a very busy time for the university, with lots of new students arriving and familiar ones returning. Getting the support you need in those first few weeks, even simple things like someone showing you around all the places where your lectures will be held can be really important. In our surveys, lots of students didn’t tell anyone they were autistic until they were already really struggling, and that can be too late for it not to have an effect on you and your work. It takes time to process applications for support and send information to the relevant people, so the earlier you can do it the better. You don’t have to wait for your results. You can get started with help from your firm choice university now – even if you end up going somewhere else.
When I disclose, who will find out?
Disclosing your diagnosis either on the UCAS form or directly to ASDAC doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone – it’s a confidential process. Your disability officer will discuss with you what, if any, information needs to be shared and who it needs to be shared with. The ASDAC team will not tell the other students on your course and they will ask you before sharing any information with other parts of the university, like your department and tutors. It also doesn’t mean that every member of staff automatically knows everything, even if you do agree for the information to be passed on; information is only shared with staff who are required to make adjustments, or with those who would benefit from being aware. However, in order to enable your tutors to understand a bit more about you, and be able to support you, it is essential to agree to this information being shared.
It’s good to agree that the information is passed on, but you will still probably have to do some of the legwork yourself, and just because your fellow students don’t have to know you are on the autistic spectrum, it doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be helpful for you to tell them. You may also decide to share information with your peers where you think it may be helpful to understand a bit more about you, but this is entirely your choice.
What to do next?Think about whether you would like to disclose your autism diagnosis to the University.
Making decisions about who to tell and when can be difficult, so below you have some questions that will help you plan what you are going to do.
In some ways, making a decision to tell the university officially about your autism is a simple one with obvious benefits and clear boundaries. Disclosing means you can access support. They tell you what information and evidence they need from you and they can’t pass any information on without your permission. You can tell them any time, but if you tell them as soon as you can it’s better for everyone.
The decision ultimately is yours, the right path for you is something you need to work out for yourself.
Contact ASDAC to talk through your options and what this means if you have any concerns about disclosing your diagnosis.
Talk to friends and family.
Questions to think about
Here are some questions that might help you making a decision about whether you will disclose your diagnosis or not, and to whom:
- When are you going to tell people?
- Who are you going to tell?
- How are you going to tell them? (in person, on the phone, via email/text, in a group or to an individual)
- How much are you going to tell them?
- Can you trust this person?
- Does this person have your best interest at heart?
- Do you mind if they tell other people? If so, you need to tell them not to share it with anyone
Additional links and information
You may want to read
This toolkit is an adaptation of the Autism&Uni project led by Marc Fabri from Leeds Beckett University, under license CC BY 4.0. The original Autism&Uni project was funded with support from the European Commission with partners in the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. For more information about this project please visit the Autism&Uni website.