Atlantic Technological University became the first TU to have one of their campuses designated as Autism Friendly at a ceremony yesterday (Wednesday, 7 December) with ATU Sligo receiving this accolade. ATU Sligo joins DCU AND NCI in being designated as Autism Friendly and are the first in the west of Ireland to achieve the award.
ATU’s Disability and Inclusion Officers, Dr Shelley Brady and Linda Mulligan have worked with AsIAm’s international accreditation committee in developing a three-year action plan for the university. These actions will bring the nine principles of an autism friendly campus into practice to help remove barriers in day-to-day campus experiences for students with autism. Included in the nine principles are; additional supports, provision of quiet spaces and securing employment after third-level.
Speaking at the official launch, Adam Harris, CEO and Founder of the national autism charity AsIAm said the designation of ATU Sligo as an Autism Friendly Campus was a significant occasion for autistic students who face challenges others do not experience:
“This is a momentous occasion for this campus to be formally recognised as an autism friendly university. Autistic people face barriers not experienced by other people. All autistic people want is the same chance as everyone else, but the reality is that in many areas of life at present autistic people do not enjoy the same chance. What we recognise with our nine principle framework for the Autism Friendly University Award is that autistic students face barriers across campus life, from transitioning into university to thriving on campus and accessing a job after university. What’s really important about this initiative, it’s an invitation for higher education institutions to take a whole campus approach and to really try to embed autism friendly practices across every aspect of university life.”
According to AsIAm founder, Adam Harris, more than half of autistic young people have experienced bullying at school and 85% are either unemployed or under-employed when they leave education.
Brigid L MacMurrough was one of ATU’s students who helped in achieving the award. Brigid was one of several students instrumental in the planning and creation of a dedicated space for autistic people on campus, officially named the “Regulation Station”. This area has enclosed softly furnished booths that allow autistic students to escape the hustle and bustle of the main campus areas for short periods. Spaces such as these are a critical part of any autism friendly environment, supporting students who are overloaded or fatigued to rest and recover on campus, rather than at home, positively impacting their attendance, their ability to engage with their studies, and to thrive at university.
President of ATU, Dr Orla Flynn said the designation will help bring the needs of autistic students to the forefront of the university: “I am delighted to announce that ATU’s Sligo campus has achieved designated autism-friendly status, with accreditation from Ireland’s national autism charity, AsIAm. This achievement of becoming an Autism Friendly Campus is very fitting to announce during the week following International Day of Persons with Disabilities. We are critically aware of the unique challenges faced by autistic students and believe in creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all. We are on a journey which will continue to include making more adaptations, being more accessible and continuing to have the needs of autistic students at our forefront. My congratulations to our Sligo team and I look forward to achieving this designation across all campuses of ATU!”
Dr Michele Glacken, Registrar & Vice President Students, Teaching & Learning at ATU said designation was an important milestone on the universities journey of nurturing an environment that is receptive to the needs of autistic students.
“ATU is committed to being a university without walls and the designation of ATU Sligo as an Autism Friendly campus is an outward sign of this commitment. The process of becoming an Autism Friendly campus has challenged us to reflect on how inclusive our policies/environment were and make the necessary steps to be truly inclusive and a college where neurodiverse students feel welcome, supportive and empowered. We will continue to make improvements and will work now to become an Autism Friendly University informed by our students voice and needs.”
To find out more about ATU’s autism friendly campus please go to: https://www.itsligo.ie/autism-friendly-initiative/.
Photo: L-R: Brigid L MacMurrough, ATU student; Dr Michele Glacken, Registrar & Vice President Students, Teaching & Learning at ATU; Adam Harris, CEO and Founder of the national autism charity AsIAm; Dr Shelley Brady, ATU Disability and Inclusion Officer and Linda Mulligan, ATU Disability and Inclusion Officer.