Read about a student’s experience of discussing their autism diagnosis in DCU with peers and lecturers. For this student it was about learning when the context and situation was right.
Do you think it is important to tell people about your autism diagnosis?
The number one thing is to think about your own comfort level in telling people in university. Peoples own boundaries are the most important thing. The door of Disability & learning Support Services is always open, so you can go there if/when you feel ready. Although it is not always a question about readiness, it is more about needing and wanting support.
Did you tell fellow students/peers/lecturers?
In first year, I told Disability & learning Support Services. I told lectures on a need to know basis, as situations arose. I think one of the reasons why I hesitated to ask for support from the lecturers was because I wanted to be independent and do it on my own. Asking for help would defeat that and make me feel dependant and childish. It’s not easy having to ask for special accommodation. I wish I could both be different and feel empowered at the same time.
In 2nd year, I told some students when I joined the some Societies. Often my intentions do not match my abilities, so it was a practical problem as well as personal. By letting them know it was given them a chance to understand. For example, if I did something that was perceived as rude, it would give them access to more explanations than the usual expectations of people’s behaviour.
It was easier for me to tell students in the societies than fellow students, because in the societies I felt more in a safe space. Whereas by telling students I feel the risk of being stigmatised is present. There is always the fear of people not understanding.
Did you talk to your tutors and lecturers directly about autism or was the info passed on to them?
Yes, I did this on a need to know basis. In hindsight, I could have told the chair of my program and she/he could have passed this onto the academics, removing the need for me to approach each lecturer and have this conversation.
Do you think it was beneficial for your tutors and lecturers to know, and if so what difference did it make?
Yes, because they have being supportive and emphatic. I have been very lucky and so surprised at the support and understanding. I had no expectations of this support prior to coming here. It took me a while to tell them, and that is ok. However, if you are ready to tell them at the start that can be very beneficial.
How does it help your friends to know you are autistic?
It helps because I sometimes need to cancel plans or I may be unable to follow through. Because my friends know that, I am autistic they understand it is not because I do not want their friendship; it is because I simply cannot at that given time. It is sometimes out of my control, no matter how much I want to meet them or complete a task etc…
How would you usually approach telling someone that you are autistic?
For me, it was about learning when the context and situation was right. I am still learning because this does not come naturally. I have had to learn by doing. I often have to do the same things many times before I learn the finesse of the situations. It is also about learning what is you are supposed to be aware of. Important for me was to tell people on a one on one. I am more a one/one person anyway, as I found out.
Do you tell people about the strengths of autism, the positives, as well as the challenges?
No, because for me it is not about positives or negatives, it is more a state of being.
What one piece of advice would you give to your first year self?
Try to realise when you are not having the necessary conversations with the lectures because you feel overwhelmed. When you are at this point, it is important to recognise that you can ask the chair of program for help in communicating to the lecturers that you are struggling.
What is the best thing about university life in DCU?
For me, it is the kindness and willingness of staff in general to offer support in their area of remit. When you enter DCU as a mature student who may have got an autism diagnosis later in life, this can be powerful.
Additional information and links
In this blog, group facilitator and moderator Joan McDonald talks us through her own late autism diagnosis, her search for community in Ireland, and how Autistic Paddies has grown over the past two years and what they get up to! Autistic Paddies is a Facebook group for autistic adults aged 18+ from or based in Ireland.