Supporting Students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ascs), Study Skills is that enough?



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Supporting Students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASCs), Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Mathew Williams
  • Disability & Dyslexia Adviser
  • Cardiff University

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Consider the perceptions towards study skills support from the point of view of:
  • Students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASCs)*
  • Disability Advisers (South Wales)
  • Outreach Mentoring Support providers – National Autistic Society (NAS) Cymru
  • * The term ASCs (Baron-Cohen 2009) covers Asperger Syndrome (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • The idea being to consider the benefits of study skills support, does that meet the need?
  • Improve and join up good inclusive practice in the support of students with ASCs in the UK

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Traditional Study Skills
  • An essential for all universities to provide
  • due to increasing numbers of students with SpLDs on our campuses from the
  • late 1990’s onwards.
  • Numbers have grown steadily from 20,730 (1999/2000).
  • 85,630 students are now known to have a specific learning
  • difficulty (HESA [online] 2011).

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Therefore expert study skills support had to be an imperative providing
    • one-to-one tutorials to:
    • Improve time management skills,
    • Improve structure and grammar of written work (not subject specific)
    • Consider Exam revision techniques
    • Additionally library and note taking support, but you will know this and how much more you need to cover and how complex this can be to get it right for each student.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Study Skills support was therefore developed with Dyslexia/SpLDs in mind
  • Specifically tailored to fit the needs of this niche group
  • Transferrable for sure – all students would benefit
  • Study Skills has proved to be a useful resource for students across the board e.g.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • For student groups who are:
    • Deaf
    • ME/CFS
    • Epilepsy
    • Mental Health issues and indeed those with ASCs
  • Is it ALWAYS the right tool for every job?

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • What are Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASCs) ?
    • Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger (1940s)
  • An ASC is categorised as a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
  • (NAS 2012)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Asperger Syndrome is part of this broad spectrum of ASCs.
  • The majority of students attending at university have a diagnosis of High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome and are characterised by:

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Autistic Spectrum Conditions - A Different Prospect to Dyslexia.
  • ASCs – Triad of Impairments (Wing and Gould)
  • Theory of Mind – empathising with others and understanding the thoughts and actions of others.
  • Social Communication
  • Social Understanding
  • Triad of Impairments

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • How can this Triad Impact and Present?
  • Delayed social maturity and social reasoning.
  • Immature empathy.
  • Difficulties with making friends, communication and controlling their emotions.
  • Advanced language abilities in terms of vocabulary.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • How can this Triad Impact and Present?
  • Delayed conversation skills.
  • Intense focus on preferred topics, clumsiness.
  • Needing assistance with organisational skills.
  • Difficulties with focus.
  • (Tony Attwood 2007)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASCs)
  • Although students with ASCs may display learning difficulties as we know just as in the eyes of many students who have a DSA that a…PC does not equal a MAC (although they run the software better!)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Then similarly the support needs for ASCs although with some crossover due to the ‘Triad’ the support required is unlikely to be the exactly the same as for those who have dyslexia.
  • However, there are similarities we are seeing a growth in the numbers of students with ASCs attending university which mirrors the growth we have seen with in Dyslexia.
  • Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASCs)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Prevalence Rates for ASCs Increase.
    • 4.1 per 10,000 Rutter (1967) and Lotter (1966)
    • 61.2 per 10,000 reported in Latif and Williams (2007)
    • 94 per 10,000 more recently in Baron-Cohen et al (2009)

Study Skills….is that enough?

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Subsequently a Growing Numbers of Students With ASCs Attend HE.
  • From 139 students in 2003
  • 706 students in 2008
  • 2,520 in 2009/10 ( HESA [online] 2011)
  • Representing the biggest rate of growth of any disability group. [NAO 2009]

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Not a ‘critical mass’ yet but…, the trend is continuing and…
  • ‘Each year there is a growing number of students entering HE who disclose at some point that they have Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism’. (Miller 2009)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Therefore, students with ASCs present a complex and diverse set of difficulties,…
  • …often very capable of learning and passing exams, but the tangle being university life is more than just exams and assignments.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Like taking a spanner to fix a nail, it can work but study skills was never designed to support students with ASCs and does not address, day to day issues such as…

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Useful yes but Study Skills Support Does not Address
  • How to initiate a conversation.
  • Coping with group work.
  • General interactions on campus.
  • Building of relationships (VanBergeijk et al. 2008).
  • Strategies to understand others and;
  • Overcoming preoccupations of interest and focus on the task in hand.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • With these additional complex needs students with ASCs from our perspective, were either:
  • Not reaching their potential.
  • Not developing strategies to cope with the university environment.
  • Withdrawing from their studies.
  • Getting in trouble on their course or more worryingly the law.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • It just didn’t feel like we were anywhere near in meeting their complex needs and this did seem to be a common theme, when looking across the sector as a whole from…

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • The Perspective of the Students Themselves
    • ‘It all went a bit chaotic last term, because they couldn’t work out what I
    • needed. They were trying to give me things that I did not need’
    • (Madriaga and Goodley 2008).
  • Likewise the Perspective of Practitioners
  • ‘We cannot persist in a system that is neither meeting the special needs of people with ASD nor achieving the goal of an inclusive society’ (Jordan 2008).
  • ‘…constantly trying to fit students into the system rather than adjusting the system to accommodate, what students with ASCs actually need’. (University X).

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • ‘...biggest challenges in delivering education provision for children on the autism spectrum, professionals cited lack of knowledge and understanding amongst school staff,... and lack of therapists...’, (Autism Education Trust [online]13/01/2011).
    • We seemed to be missing the point with the support and perhaps
    • the adjustments we were making were not fully ‘reasonable’ or hitting the mark.
    • So what can we do to improve this? Research to date has
    • been limited as this is a relatively new phenomenon?

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Small research project considered how students with ASCs are supported and if study skills was enough or if this worked best in combination with mentoring support ?

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • In all 3 universities in South Wales participated
  • Figures showed 17 Students in the South Wales were receiving external support interventions (Outreach mentoring Support) – via NAS Cymru.
  • 8 Students volunteered to participate.
  • Caveat - small sample but representative of the only legitimate critical and conceptual sample available, (Creswell 2008).

Study Skills….is that enough?

    • Practitioner Attitudes towards Traditional Study Skills Support
    • All 3 universities used a combination of traditional study skills support and were at varying stages in the use of mentoring support.
    • All practitioners gave their perspectives on the benefits of study skills and its’ limitations to an extent.
    • They believed students with ASCs to be ‘cool’ as to the need for this support as the title of ‘little professors’, and comments like why would this help me were often brought up.

Study Skills….is that enough?

    • However those students with ASCs who did use it did help with time management, word count difficulties and organization.
    • A number however struggled to see the relevance, as sometimes feel they have the knowledge, however there are many examples of students not being able to stick to word counts, answering the question that has been set , meeting deadlines and… demonstrating…
    • You may know it, but you have to show it!

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Input from NAS Cymru did feel this support was useful but…
  • ‘Students may not see the connection between support and benefit unless it is spelled out to them i.e. they need a concrete reason to go. Not so much that this may help but the how and why, will it help’ (Hopkins, 25th March 2011).

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Overwhelmingly positive.
  • Improving confidence of those with ASCs.
  • Improved retention – fewer exclusions.
  • Improves classroom, Group work and fieldwork interactions.
  • Improves confidence of lecturing staff that students with ASCs can be supported more effectively.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Improves ability to listen and to ask for assistance and clarification.
  • Reduces preoccupation of interests.
  • Overall a very positive response.
  • Much of current research has concentrated on what the practitioners think, but the most important thing was to hear and listen to the student voice and if they feel as positive about it.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Student Voice – What are their Perceptions and Needs?
  • All student participants were asked their perceptions as to study skills and mentoring support
  • 6 out of the 8 students had experienced both study skills and mentoring support at university. In all 7 students had received some form of mentoring during their lives.
  • All 8 had at some stage received study skills support.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Areas Identified Requiring Mentoring Support:
  • Chronic Social Difficulties
  • ‘I wish I could connect with people more to be honest because I feel as though I am turning up to lectures every single day with people who I recognise their faces I am used to seeing them daily, but I don’t know them’, (David)
  • Parental Support
  • ‘...it looked as though I might have to drop out of the course... she (mum) was able to underline to my tutors and the university authorities the extreme extent to which things had started to go wrong’. (Harry)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Environmental Difficulties
  • ‘I did try at the other university but they weren’t that interested, so I just didn’t bother’! (Fleur)
  • Preoccupation of Interests
  • ‘I was so engrossed with my work there was actually a period of time where I didn’t speak to any of my family for two weeks because my life was my work...I had to be reminded to go to the bathroom ...to eat, drink, go to the toilet; go to bed...I was functioning in a very...driven way that took over my life’. (Georgie)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Social Difficulties at University
  • ‘...when I go out and everybody is talking around me I sort of end up falling asleep (laughs) with trying to concentrate on all these different conversations that are going on...’. (Bart)
  • Coping with Group Work
  • ‘I hate it because they are lazy..., they don’t do their bit and I am the one banging away’. (Ed)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Difficulties with Understanding Communication and Instructions (Working to Deadlines)
  • ‘...certainly as a kid with conversations, it felt like they were talking a foreign language...’ (Adam)
  • ‘...during conversations when I say something that I think is alright, ...I get a massively hostile reception and like I must have overstepped the mark but without realising it...’ (Ed)
  • ‘…with the practicals as I am not sure what I am actually meant to be doing...so I just sit there being confused’. (Fleur)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Acceptance of Constructive Criticism
  • ‘...I think [they] are brilliant or I have a lot of respect for that person I will take it on board, but if I think [they are] hopeless I’ll think like no, I know better so I won’t take it on board’. (Ed)
  • Academic Confidence
  • ‘In terms of how I would weigh my confidence...I would say overall I am confident in my abilities.’ (Charles).
  • ‘...I don’t think particularly there has been any (modules) I have struggled with ...’ (Adam)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Early Diagnosis
  • Finally, timing of diagnosis, the earlier the better as this gives the students access to support strategies at the earliest possible juncture, ‘...as a child like my Asperger Syndrome was far more severe than it is now...that was because I was trained. Everything is trained behaviour, eye contact, and I also had a speech therapist as a child…’
  • Fleur was diagnosed very late on and came to campus without the strategies she needed to manage the social environment. Her first university did not use external support and she transferred as a result, and has managed to catch up and ‘survive’ the academic year.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • So what can we do to improve the support currently available? For the right skills may need to look outside, initially.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Outreach Mentoring Support – but how can it help?
  • ‘Socialeyes’ Social Interaction Facilitation Programme – A series of DVD presentations of social scenarios and how to react and interact. (NAS Cymru).
    • http://www.equinex.newport.ac.uk/Resources/update%20docs/research%20pages/final%20reports/The%20Socialeyes%20programme.pdf
    • http://www.autism.org.uk/our-services/training-and-consultancy/our-training-courses-for-practitioners/socialeyes-facilitator-training.aspx
    • How can this help?

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Starting a Conversation
  • Eye Contact
  • Personal Space
  • Taking Turns in a Conversation

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Talking about Interests
  • Ending
  • a Conversation
  • Sensitive Topics

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Builds Rapport and Trust with Student – liaise with Practitioners to inform on support.
  • ‘All the students who have disclosed a diagnosis of an ASC have mentoring support from the NAS’ (University X).
  • Allows students with ASCs to understand the need for traditional support and to stay on track e.g...
  • ‘…but I had read the article and found it fascinating but it wasn’t relevant. There are times when that does become an issue...’ (Adam)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Improves the social confidence of those with ASCs, by helping them to understand the actions and behaviours of the so called neurotypicals!
  • ‘Improves the insight of people like me...improves a person’s insight on life which is perhaps more limited than perhaps the normal person’? (David)
  • Allows students to avoid overloads and meltdowns,
  • ‘If I had to prioritise I would have to say the mentoring...mentally it has helped me keep up with my mental health.’ (Bart)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Provides General Life skills it’s not all about the academic side
  • ‘...like handling some mail or they can handle something like finances or something like, something like that, everyday things which I don’t know about and I can’t do basically’. (Charles)
  • Assists practitioners and university staff in general to understand the issues those with ASCs face.
  • Realisation/Awareness that as practitioners we need to increase our understanding and not just expect students with ASCs to learn to understand our world.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • ...’the use of a mentor helps..., to develop social skills and improve communication strategies’. (University Z).
  • To improve the current situation we need to keep using the NAS to support our students and ultimately we need to train and educate support staff, and this has to be the best way forward’. (University Y)
  • ...’the use of a mentor helps..., to develop social skills and improve communication strategies’. (University Z).

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • What’s the Way Forward?
  • Traditional study Skills Support is welcomed to assist with time management and organisation, but too narrow to fully address the needs of those with ASCs.
  • Need to be concrete as to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ it can be of help.
  • Not just knowing it, it’s showing you know it!
  • Perhaps one of the right tools for the job but sometimes it takes more than one tool to do the job properly.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Changing Practices Required
  • Practitioners need to improve their understanding of ASCs and their competency in selecting appropriate support and changing practices need to be considered, e.g.
  • Taster (Summer) Schools – offering early access to campus.
  • Parental Involvement to ease transition?
  • Diagnostic process – complex but needs to be considered.
  • Mentoring to assist students to come to terms with a late diagnosis.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Careful monitoring of Assessed Group Work sessions, and set deadlines.
  • Awareness that a preoccupation of interests can lead to difficulties with coursework
  • Awareness that it is the responsibility to support the student whether DSA funding is forthcoming or not. However it is established that a, ’support package for a student with autism can legitimately include social mentoring support as well as course related support’. (National Audit Office 2009)

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Training university practitioners to facilitate programmes such as or similar to ‘Socialeyes’, would add expertise on campus.
  • Access to trained mentors on campus as has been established at several universities in South Wales which is perhaps a step to improve good practice in supporting students with ASCs.
  • At one of the universities in the study the NAS have been given their own offices and have a permanent presence on campus.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Mentoring support is highly valued by students with ASCs and is perhaps one of the right tools for the job due the wide extent of areas it covers.
  • Mentoring Support does seem to improve social confidence.
  • Improves understanding of the behaviour of others and of self.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Improves understanding of boundaries, personal space and conversational skills.
  • Reduces negative interactions, and preoccupation of interests.
  • Improves Theory of Mind and how and;
  • when to ask for help.
  • Organisational skills.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • External Support – NAS Perspective on What they Do.
  • Imagine you were in a remote country and you disembarked the plane, take a taxi to the city centre but you didn’t understand any of the culture, do you bow, shake hands, make eye contact and even less of the language…how would you feel? Lost, disorientated and confused? However, what if when you got out of that taxi there was someone there to greet you who understood your language and culture and they also understood the strange language and culture, and they were there to interpret and guide you around and through the maze of interactions… (Hopkins 25th March 2011).

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • Further research is needed with a greater sample size, but it seems study skills is a useful tool once it is realised that it is needed, but we may need a bigger tool kit to begin to meet the needs of this student group get this wholly right and mentoring does seem to be part of that kit.

Synopsis of Benefits of External Mentoring Support for Students with ASCs

  • Areas Needing Non –Traditional Mentoring Support Interventions for Students with ASCs
  • Social Interactions Strategies to:
  • Behavioural/Cognitive Strategies to:
  • Organisational Strategies to:
  • Increase ability to initiate social interactions.
  • Improve insight into the impact of the symptoms of ASCs on self and personal behaviours.
  • Develop time management and to build structure into daily life.
  • Reduce negative interactions to reduce conflict and improve social isolation.
  • Reduce preoccupations of interests.
  • Meet set deadlines within the given timescale.
  • Understand the behaviours of others, body language and non-verbal clues in interactions.
  • Improving Theory of Mind to understand what others may be thinking.
  • Keep on track with any set assignment and essay assessments i.e. to answer the question that has been set.
  • Understand social boundaries and how to build relationships with same and opposite sex.
  • Understand the need for help and how and when to ask for it.
  • Understand how to manage group work deadlines.
  • Improve conversational skills, generally but also to negotiate through group work sessions.
  • Build social confidence and understand the interactions of groups.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • References
  • Acts of Parliament. 2002. The Disability Discrimination Act Part 4. (Amendment to The Disability Discrimination Act 1995). London. TSO.
  •  Acts of Parliament. 2010. The Equality Act. London. TSO.
  • ATTWOOD, T. 2007. The complete guide to Asperger Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • AUTISM EDUCATION TRUST. 2011. New research highlights a lack of specialist support. [WWW] http://www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk/en-GB/sitecore/content... (13th January 2011).
  • BARON-COHEN, S., SCOTT, F.J., ALLISON, C., WILLIAMS, J., BOLTON, P., MATTHEWS, F.E. and BRAYNE, C. 2009. Prevalence of autism-spectrum conditions: UK school-based population study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 194. pp. 500 – 509.
  • CRESSWELL, J.W. 2008. Educational Research: Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research (3rd Edn.). New Jersey. Pearson Education, Inc.
  • HERMELIN, B.A. and O’CONNOR, N. 1970. Psychological Experiments with Autistic Children. 1st Edn. Oxford. Pergamon Press.
  • Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) 2011.UK domiciled HE students by level of study, gender, mode of study, year of study and disability status 2009/10
  • www.hesa.ac.uk/dox/dataTables/studentsAndQualifiers/.../disab0910.xls
  •  JORDAN, R. 2008. Autistic Spectrum Disorders: A Challenge and a Model for Inclusion in Education. British Journal of Special Education. 35, (1), pp. 11 – 15.
  • LATIF, A.H.A. and WILLIAMS, W.R. 2007. Diagnostic trends in autistic spectrum disorders in the South Wales valleys. AUTISM, 11 (6), pp. 479 – 487.
  • LOTTER, V. 1966. Epidemiology of autistic conditions in young children.I. Prevalence. Social Psychiatry, 1, pp. 124 – 127.

Study Skills….is that enough?

  • References
  • MADRIAGA, M. and GOODLEY, D. 2008. Moving beyond the minimum: socially just pedagogies and Asperger’s syndrome in UK Higher Education. International Journal for inclusive Education, 14, (2), pp. 115 - 131.
  • MILLER, L. 2009. Higher Education: Social Mentoring for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Skill Journal. 93. pp. 8 – 10.
  • NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE. 2009. Supporting people with autism through adulthood. Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (HC 556 Session 2008-2009).
  • NATIONAL AUTISTIC SOCIETY (Cymru), (Richards, D and Yeomans, H.) 2007.
  • Developing resources to enable social interaction and understanding for those on the Autism Spectrum. [WWW] www.equinex.newport.ac.uk/Resources/update%20docs/research%20pages/final%20reports/NAS%20final%20report.pdf . (Accessed 16th April 2011)
  • RUTTER, M. (1967). A children’s behaviour questionnaire for completion by teachers: preliminary findings’, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 1–11.
  • The Warnock Report. 1978. Special Educational Needs: Report of the Committee of Enquiry into the education of handicapped children and young people. London. HMSO.
  • UNITED NATIONS (Enable) Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities - Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 24) – Education. [On-Line} Accessed 2011.
  • VANBERGEIJK, E., KLIN, A. and VOLKMAR, V. 2008. Supporting More Able Students on the Autism Spectrum: College and Beyond. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 38, pp. 1359 – 1370.
  • WING, L. and GOULD, J. 1979. Severe impairments and social interaction and associated abnormalities in children, epidemiology and classification. Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 9 (1), pp. 11 – 29.


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