Autism spectrum conditions

About autism

Autism affects how people experience the world and communicate.

It's called a spectrum because autistic people's experiences are diverse. Each student has an individual set of skills and attributes.

Autism can affect how students:

  • process information and language
  • interact socially
  • interpret indirect or ambiguous communication
  • understand non-verbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions

Autistic students may find it hard to adapt to certain situations. Students' anxiety may be made worse by:

  • lack of structure
  • unclear information
  • change at short notice
  • new environments
  • socially demanding activities

Autistic students have sensory sensitivities. For example, a student may be more or less sensitive to particular smells, or noise or light levels.

These kinds of factors can:

  • make everyday activities overwhelming and sometimes impossible to engage with
  • have a cumulative effect on stress levels, wellbeing and fatigue
  • affect time management and productivity

Find out more about autism from the National Autistic Society.

Supporting and teaching autistic students

Support recommendations for autistic students vary because their experiences differ. Refer to the individual student's Student Support Document for specific guidance.

The following examples of inclusive practice may be helpful for autistic students. They will also benefit a range of other students.

Time, deadlines and extensions

  • Keep timetables and venues consistent.
  • Give deadlines well in advance.
  • Describe academic tasks clearly and explicitly.
  • Allow extended loan periods for books.

Study and exam support

  • Encourage the student to access mentoring and study skills support. This can assist students with study strategies and planning. It also helps with managing any difficulties as early as possible.
  • Schedule regular meetings with the student's Tutor or Director of Studies. This helps staff to get to know the individual student. It also helps staff respond to any matters promptly.
  • Allow students to take exams in a quiet space with fewer students, when necessary. This helps avoid sensory and social distractions.

Before the session

  • Make sure course requirements and expectations are clear and unambiguous.
  • Structure lectures and supervisions well, highlighting important information and references.
  • Provide reserved seating in classes.
  • Provide information well in advance about what to expect in sessions and modules. This can make new experiences more predictable and helps students plan for them. 
  • Consider the learning environment and the impact of noise, light and social dynamics. For example, have one demonstrator speaking at once where possible. You can also develop group working rules ahead of projects.

During the session

  • Set ground rules and roles for group work activities.
  • Provide access to recordings of teaching sessions made by the department. Read our recording agreement for more information.

After the session

  • Give detailed, legible feedback on students' work. Include good points, areas to improve and a reference to a grade. Written feedback is useful as students can refer to it in the future.

Advice for students

If you're a prospective or current student, you can: