Some students with autism can face challenges to their mental health, just like non-autistic students. However, they may experience their condition differently as a result of their autism.
Shane Craig, Mental Health Adviser at the University of Bath, tells us more.
Could you tell us about the interaction between MH and autism?
People with autism are likely to experience anxiety as well as low mood. It can be difficult for people with autism to recognise feelings and emotions in themselves, often it can be like there is nothing there and then suddenly an emotion or anxiety will hit very quickly. What can happen is that an emotion or anxiety is building up but someone with autism may not recognise this until it has already got to a level they cannot tolerate. This can make people with ASD think that everything is either “fine” or “terrible” rather than experiencing general ups and downs of day-to-day life.
Have you noticed any particular challenges which students with autism face at university, when compared to their non-autistic peers?
I think the main challenge for people with autism in general is that society isn’t run with neuro-diverse people in mind, so they will often think that because something is the way it has always been then they should just get used to it rather than asking for it to be changed. This ranges from things like how a subject is taught (learning concepts behind something without having something concrete to attach it to can be very difficult for someone with autism), to the lighting in a room affecting someone with hypersensitivity to light.
The Disability Service works well with departments and the Estates team on these issues when autistic students raise them, but sometimes they don’t realise there is an issue to resolve in the first place.
Can you tell me about the work your team does with students who have both conditions?
The mental health advisor team works with students with ASD slightly differently to other students. Generally, we will take things a little slower and ensure the student understands what is happening for them before they are asked to make changes in their life. We also try to present information in different ways (visually, via conversation or written down for example) to find out how the student prefers to work and what helps mental health concepts make the most sense to them.
Does the University of Bath offer any support tailored to students with ASC?
The Autistic Students Managing Mood and Anxiety (ASMMA) group is aimed at people with autism who experience low mood or anxiety. They do not have to be diagnosed with low mood or anxiety to take part in the group (they also do not have to have a diagnosed ASD, the group is open for all people who identify as autistic).
All our support is available to and adaptable to work well with people with ASD, including our groups, 1:1 work and the Prescriptions for Exercise programme. However, ASMMA is the only group to be tailored towards people with autism specifically.
What would you recommend to a student with (e.g.) anxiety plus ASC who is considering applying to university? And applying to the University of Bath?
Introduce yourself to the disability team before you start, having support in place from them from the beginning makes a huge difference. At the University of Bath there are a lot of different types of support that can help with the transition from home to living and studying at university.
Additional information and links
You can find out more about Prescription for Exercise here. If you would like to get involved, have a chat with your Disability Adviser, and they’ll be able to refer you.
You can find more information about the mental health and counselling support available at Bath here.