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Module 2: Autism

What do we mean by Autism?

“…a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others…Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties but being autistic will affect them in different ways.”

National Autistic Society, UK
Picture of two female students laughing

In line with our commitment to the social model of disability, the authors do not consider autism a disorder and we will therefore refer to Autism, students/people with autism, autistic students and the autistic spectrum (AS).   

People with autism often have accompanying learning difficulties but all individuals share the same common difficulty in making sense of the world around them.

Students with autistic spectrum disorders can experience a number of difficulties which may affect their studies.

People with autism generally experience three main areas of difficulty; these are known as the triad of impairments:

  • Social interaction – difficulty with social relationships, e.g. appearing aloof and indifferent to others.
  • Social communication – difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, e.g. not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice.
  • Imagination – difficulty in the development of interpersonal skills and imagination, e.g. having a limited range of imaginative abilities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively.

In addition to these three main areas, repetitive behaviour patterns and resistance to change in routine are often also characteristic.

Individuals may often interrupt inappropriately and be unable to interpret any cues that such interruptions are unwelcome. They may also appear non-compliant at times, as they often have difficulty taking direction and coping with negative feedback. Students with autism may often be perceived as being rude or arrogant – and it is important that academic staff are aware that the student has impaired communication and that any rudeness is unintentional. Tutorial participation may present problems for some students and allowances for these communication difficulties may be necessary.

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