Autism – Friendly Schools: Post-Secondary Education

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Students with autism at college or university face sensory issues

Many families with autistic children are unaware of post-secondary schooling options and seek autism-friendly schools that accommodate those with neurodiversity.  In addition, they may also want to specifically have an “Asperger friendly” college.  University and college students with autism, or who are neurodiverse, may have sensory issues

Students who are autistic or experience anxiety, and sensory overload may find post-secondary institutions particularly challenging. Post-secondary schools like universities and colleges tend to have noisy, busy, bright environments that do not lend themselves to being sensory-friendly.

The experience of autistic students is shared by many other students too.  For instance, students with a hidden disability including a learning disability, PTSD, concussion, anxiety, or even hearing loss may experience sensory-sensitivity.  In addition, stress and burnout are common experiences by students worried about exams, papers, projects and their future. These elevated levels of anxiety and exhaustion may make busy, noisy, and bright environments stressful.  

So, students in high school and post-secondary education face stress from a variety of factors. Consequently, many colleges and universities across the world have created adaptations to address this important issue.

Studious student working on laptop in autism friendly school library.

Sensory rooms can help with sensory issues

Many families and students are curious about the modifications for students with autism. An example is universities and colleges that have created autism-friendly sensory rooms on campus.  In fact, some of these institutions have sensory pods for autism.

Students who identify with neurodiversity or with autism look for autism-friendly libraries, multi-sensory rooms, or sensory study rooms or quiet spaces.

For instance, these rooms may contain things like:

  • light spray or rope
  • bubble tube
  • LED strip lighting and lamps (not fluorescent)
  • Rocking chair
  • Bean bag chair
  • Wobble chair
  • Sensory fidgets
  • Relaxing music
  • Yoga mat
  • Mini-trampoline
  • Punching bag

Sensory activities are taking the stage for autism and college success

Sensory activities include sensory-friendly movies, relaxed performances, and even shopping times.  Most noteworthy, universities and colleges are taking the lead with students and the community alike and hosting sensory-friendly events on campus.

For example, universities and colleges are putting on relaxed performances. These post-secondary institutions are making additional efforts to accommodate the audience and ensure an accessible venue. The sensory experience is adapted by eliminating spotlights and harsh lighting. Additionally, performers prepare for the audience to move around more during the show.

Likewise, post-secondary schools host sensory-friendly movie nights.  Similar to the sensory-friendly performances, the lighting is adjusted, the volume is lowered and accessibility accommodations are made for these movie nights. 

Sensory-friendly map

Elaine Chen sitting quiet space University of New Brunswick, Saint John Campus.
Elaine Chen, University of New Brunswick, Saint John Campus, submitted photo.

Finally, this is Elaine Chen in the photo above.  She was an MBA graduate of the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and contributor to this blog post.  Moreover, Elaine completed an internship at Sensory-Friendly Solutions in 2018.  She found a sensory-friendly space at UNB Saint John campus in New Brunswick, Canada during her studies there.  Elaine says, “Down a corridor, there is this little spot between classrooms and offices in Oland Hall.  Students and professors alike,  who want a break, can sit down on these sofas and enjoy a peaceful environment. When I sit there, I like to feel the warmth of the sunlight and the calmness that sitting amongst plants brings.  I would love to see more places like this on my campus.”

This is a wonderful example of a sensory-friendly space, highlighted by Elaine.  However, it also demonstrates the need for a sensory-friendly map on campus.  For instance, a sensory-friendly map would direct students, including those with autism, to locations on campus that have sensory rooms or even sensory-friendly spots similar to this.  On a large campus with a large student body, this would be an incredibly helpful feature!

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