Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
This section introduces Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Aspergers Syndrome (AS) and explores how they may impact on a student's academic performance and participation in university life. Here, the main focus is to suggest ways in which you as a staff member can support students with ASD or Aspergers Syndrome manage their role of being a student.
- Difficulties that may be experienced
- Strategies staff can use to support students
Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a term that is used as an umbrella term for a series of pervasive developmental, neurological disorders including Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is recognised as being at the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum. For the purposes of this information, we will use the acronym ASD to cover Asperger’s Syndrome also.
ASD is characterised by a triad of impairments or difficulties, in the absence of general learning difficulties. Individuals with ASD may experience difficulties in (i) social interaction and social relationships (ii) verbal and non-verbal communication, and (iii) imagination, behaviour, and flexibility of thought. Students with ASD often have above average intelligence and high aptitudes for acquiring knowledge. These aspects can enable students with ASD to thrive in a university environment. The number of students with ASD entering Trinity is increasing every year. It is important to understand that the difficulties identified below do not apply to all students with ASD.
Difficulties that may be experienced
- Students may have a need for order and predictability. Students may find adapting to new routines or changing circumstances challenging. The transition to third level where days are largely non-routine can often be difficult for students. Students with ASD may have difficulties with organisation, and orientation to university locations and systems, particularly in their first year.
- People with ASD sometimes interpret language literally and may have difficulty understanding metaphors, sarcasm, unclear directions or ambiguous content.
- Students with ASD may be quite conscious of their performance in social situations, which can be a source of anxiety. Students may have difficulty getting to know new people, and building up relationships. Students with ASD may find group work situations challenging or stressful.
- Students with ASD may be hypersensitive to sensory stimuli (vision, hearing, touch, taste, or smell). As such, students may be easily distracted or overwhelmed by noisy environments, for example, lecture halls.
- Perfectionism can be a problem for students with ASD. A fear of failure and a determination to complete a perfect piece of work can lead to students procrastinating and getting ‘stuck’. Organising material, planning, and managing time and deadlines can be a significant challenge for many students.
- Students with ASD may experience difficulties with gross or fine motor skills, and can experience difficulty with handwriting or note taking.
Strategies staff can use to support students
- Explained here, students may have disclosed as having ASD to their School through a LENS report. Access the LENS report for details on how you can support the student. Implement and support a student’s reasonable accommodations with efficiency and discretion. Be mindful of how having ASD may impact a student’s experience of university life.
- Provide clear and unambiguous instructions. Students with ASD may find it difficult to decode implied meaning in language. It is therefore suggested to use simple and clear language free from metaphors. It is also may beneficial to provide both written and verbal instruction for some students.
- Make lecture notes available in advance if possible. Students with ASD may have difficulty with fine motor skills, attention, and organisation and note taking in class can be difficult.
- Students with ASD may find it difficult to manage time and plan ahead. A clear timeline of events, assignments, and deadlines in the course handbook would support students to know when things are due.
- Students with ASD may find the transition from second to third level particularly difficult. Be particularly understanding at this time.
- Follow Trinity Inclusive Curriculum guidelines as much as possible.
- Help and advice on using the College Accessible information policy .
For more information please see
- Autism Uni Toolkit
- Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland (aspireireland.ie)
- The Listen, Speak, and Be Heard website- this TCD website offers information about effective communication for students and staff, and suggests practical tips and technological supports to improve communication skills
- Trinity College Asperger Syndrome support website
- Aspergers Advice (aspergersadvice.org)
- The National Autistic Society (UK) (autism.org.uk/)
- Assistive Technology in TCD
- Student Learning Development in TCD