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Supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Higher Education

The number of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in higher education has grown significantly in recent times, a trend that is anticipated to continue in the future. While universities have academic supports in place to assist students, these supports do not address the full range of issues and subsequent support needs of students with ASD.

A new research project funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) and led by the University of Tasmania will result in the development of a framework of support and higher education delivery for students with ASD.

Dr Ceridwen Owen, Acting Head, School of Architecture & Design at the University of Tasmania, along with colleagues Damhnat McCann from the School of Health Sciences, Dr Christopher Rayner from the Faculty of Education, Dr Lyndsay Quarmby from the Centre for Rural Health and Carol Devereaux and Fiona Sheehan from Disability Services will work in collaboration with Mary Brake, autism consultant from the Department of Education, and Darlene McLennan, manager of the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Disability and Education, on this project.

Dr Owen said,

“A key aspect of this project is to investigate the impact of the built environment on the experience of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. People with ASD can experience many difficulties when navigating even apparently familiar environments, such as sensory overload and confusion. We can’t solve everything through design, but we need to understand how the built environment impacts on their experience and where we can make changes to make it easier for students with ASD to more fully participate in academic and social life at university.”

The study will involve current University of Tasmania students with ASD, who will record their experiences using photovoice, where data is gathered from photographs taken by the participants combined with in-depth interviews. The research project will also investigate holistic disability support models and innovations in learning and teaching to support students on the autism spectrum.

Dr Owen’s project is one of 12 funded via the NCSEHE’s 2015 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program. The project is scheduled to conclude in December 2015, after which time the final report will be made available here on the NCSEHE website.

Ceridwen completed her architectural qualifications at the Edinburgh College of Art (First Class Hons 1991) and the Mackintosh School in Glasgow (Postgraduate Diploma 1993). After moving to Australia she worked in practice for several years before commencing her Doctorate at the University of Melbourne in 1999. Her thesis, ‘The Green Field: the sub-culture of sustainable architecture’, explored the complex and contested understandings of sustainability and how it operates as a form of symbolic capital within the field of architecture. Following the completion of her Doctorate, Ceridwen joined the University of Tasmania in 2005 where she continues to explore sustainability in relation to architectural and theory and practice in her research and teaching. Ceridwen is also a registered practising architect in Tasmania and a partner with Core Collective Architects, with whom she recently completed a pro bono project for a children’s hostel in north India for the charity Tong-len.

Posted 15 April 2015 Posted in Disability, General