Occupational needs of students with Autism in the university environment

Principal Investigator

Laura Connolly, Trinity College Dublin.


Research Aim

The aim of this project is to investigate the occupational enablers and barriers to the participation of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in higher education.

The objectives of this research are to:

  1. Explore the environmental impact on sensory preferences of university students with ASD as measured by the adult sensory profile and interview.
  2. Explore the difficulties experienced by university students with ASD as measured by the Trinity Student Profile
  3. Explore from the perspective of other stakeholders (DAWN members) what the barriers and enablers for students with ASD are in a university environment..
  4. Explore the leisure interests and occupations of students with ASD as measured by the interest checklist and occupational questionnaire.
  5. Measure the impact of the university environment on these leisure interests and occupations as measured by the occupational self-assessment and occupational questionnaire
  6. Measure the level of participation in college activities amongst students with ASD as measured by the college student questionnaire and the ICF questionnaire
  7. Utilize the findings to inform programme development for students with ASD.



The number of students with autism attending Irish universities has risen dramatically over the past number of years, for example at Trinity College Dublin in 2008 there were 14 students compared to 40 in 2012. While universities around the world have published guidelines for service provision for these students – this is often limited to the academic side of college and often fails to capture the whole student experience. Knowledge of best practices in university education for learners with autism, which is directly informed by the student's voice, remains limited and therefore this research seeks to uncover this.

Research approach

A sequential exploratory mixed methods (Creswell, 2013) approach was used to gather data through the use of qualitative and quantitative methods.  A qualitative design (focus groups) will be used to gather data from the DAWN group and an interview will be used to gather information from the students. Students will also be sent the questionnaire via SurveyMonkey (quantitative design).

Disability Service Strategy 2009-2014 phase alignment: Phase 2
Level of research: M.Sc. in Occupational Therapy
Supervisor: Dr. Clodagh Nolan
Stage of research: Due for completion in September 2014