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Mentors for Students with Aspergers

Students with a diagnosis of high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome who are in receipt of the Disabled Students Allowance will be able to see a specialist mentor if this has been recommended in their needs assessment.

There are a number of common traits that are seen in people on the autism spectrum, the key features are:

Difficulty in communicating - their speech may be fluent but they might have difficulty making conversation and engaging in small talk and social niceties. They may be literal in their understanding of spoken language, and have difficulty understanding metaphors and sarcasm.

Difficulty in social relationships – they may wish to make friends and be sociable, but find it difficult to understand social rules and conventions. They may also find it difficult to understand other people’s non-verbal communication such as gestures, facial expression, body posture and tone of voice.

Difficulties with imaginative thought and flexible thinking – they often have a strong desire for order and predictability, which may lead to them developing rituals and routines. This can make it very challenging for them to adapt to new environments, people and unfamiliar routines. Consequently changes to their daily routines, timetables, exams and field trips can cause stress and anxiety.

In addition to the above traits many people on the autism spectrum experience difficulties with sensory processing and can be overwhelmed by too much sensory information, for example, they may feel uncomfortable in a large noisy lecture hall or be easily distracted by lights, sounds or smells that others might not notice.

Mentoring

At UCL there are currently two mentors who specialise in supporting students on the autism spectrum, the mentors are both speech and language therapists.

Students are offered appointments in the first week of term (Freshers’ week) where they have the opportunity to meet with the mentors. A short questionnaire is completed and the service we offer is explained to the students. Follow up appointments are usually made at this meeting but sometimes the student does not feel they need regular contact with a mentor and they are encouraged to contact the mentors or the disability office if they wish to make an appointment in the future.

The mentors are available to meet with students each Wednesday in term time. In addition to face-to-face meetings the mentors also offer telephone and email support as required throughout the week.

Some students request weekly appointments but others may only ask for a meeting if they have a specific problem or concern they wish to discuss. Many of the students reduce the frequency of their mentoring sessions once they are settled and find that they are coping well with university life.

Mentoring support and advice covers many aspects of the student’s university life and may include the following:

· Supporting the student settle into their new life at university where they will face many new challenges and experiences, such as finding their way around, living in new accommodation, managing their timetable and meeting new people

· Supporting the student to manage their independent living arrangements including financial budgeting, shopping, cooking and laundry

· Encouraging the student interact with fellow students and to make and maintain friendships, this may include joining clubs and societies where they are likely to meet people with similar interests and hobbies

· Time management including the use of visual or written timetables, reminders, timers, organisers and planning strategies

· Organising the student’s workload and structuring independent study including planning and prioritising tasks and meeting deadlines for assignments

· Providing confidential information to departmental staff about any academic, social, organisational or sensory difficulties and giving suggestions and coping strategies that can be implemented to support the student

· Monitoring stress and anxiety levels and advising on coping strategies

· Building the student’s confidence and self esteem by focusing on their individual strengths and interests

· Helping the student cope with changes of routine or new situations such as new accommodation, field trips or exams

· Discussing issues related to disclosure and confidentiality

· Preparation for exams including revision planning, managing stress and applying for special exam arrangements

· Advising on general health and wellbeing including a healthy diet, fitness levels and making sure they see a doctor or dentist if necessary