The Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success acknowledges Indigenous peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our campuses are situated. With a history spanning 60,000 years as the original educators, Indigenous peoples hold a unique place in Australia. We recognise the importance of their knowledge and culture, and reflect the principles of participation, equity, and cultural respect in our work. We pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future, and consider it an honour to learn from our Indigenous colleagues, partners, and friends.

You are reading: Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Higher Education

Ceridwen Owen, Damhnat McCann, Christopher Rayner, Carol Devereaux, Fiona Sheehan and Lyndsay Quarmby

University of Tasmania

Report Summary

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopment disorder characterised by difficulties in social communication and interaction and restrictive or repetitive patterns of behaviour. ASD includes Asperger Syndrome and other disorders. An increasing number of students have ASD and their needs are often complex and can be highly idiosyncratic. Traditional supports don’t frequently meet the needs of students with ASD.

The research drew on information from disability support providers as well as students with ASD. The report targeted improvements in in four areas: existing supports; needs; opportunities; and resourcing. It developed recommendations in three areas: holistic disability supports; pedagogical innovations; and inclusive design solutions.

Recommendations in holistic disability supports included:

  • Developing supports for students with ASD that go beyond academic skills, including support measures in social skills, self-management, advocacy and personal development.
  • While peer-monitoring and transition support are effective forms of support, they need to be integrated in institutional support structures.
  • There is a need to develop greater awareness of ASD among staff and students.

Recommendations in pedagogical innovation included:

  • Students with ASD should be provided with multiple options for accessing content and engaging in learning experiences.
  • Teaching staff need greater awareness in working with students with ASD.
  • Students with ASD should be supported in exercising self-management of their learning. This includes choices in accessing content; preferences in learning spaces; and opportunities for structured rather than forced social interaction.

Recommendations in inclusive design solutions included:

  • Recent developments in design on campuses have emphasised dynamic, interactive, acoustically live and visually stimulating environments – which now needs to be balanced with opportunities for students with ASD to retreat to sensory calming spaces.
  • The design of social amenities needs to enable students with ASD to participate in social life.
  • Legibility of signs and information should be incorporated into campus design to facilitate orientation and navigation.


Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Higher Education

Owen, C., McCann, D., Rayner, C., Devereaux, C., Sheehan, F. & Quarmby, L. (2016) Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Higher Education. Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.

Featured publications
The Critical Interventions Framework Part 3 (CIF 3) focuses on evaluative studies which provide details of the impacts of specific interventions on equity groups in relation to access to and success in higher education.
A case study documenting the transition of one Indigenous student, Robbie, from an underprivileged school located in the Western suburbs of Sydney to an urban Australian university.