ESOK-hanke 2006-2011


Asperger's Syndrome and higher education

Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is neurobiological developmental disorder that is part of the autism spectrum. It causes problems in particular with social interaction as well as with flexible thinking and behavior.

Even many talented AS students might still need support in their daily life and studies. People with the disorder share many challenges and strengths but above all AS persons are individuals. Students must have the support and confidentiality they need to be able to take care of their business.

An encouraging atmosphere and individual support in different stages of their studies are necessary for many AS students.

Most AS students would like to make friends and be part of a community, but they can be hindered by

  • speaking and understanding things literally, difficulties in recognizing irony or sarcasm
  • little use and knowledge of body language, avoidance of eye contact
  • lack of knowledge of social norms others take for granted
  • difficulties in participating in group situations, starting a conversation and keeping it up in turns.

Flexible thinking and behavior might be limited:

  • Increased emphasis on the need for rules and routines.
  • Difficulties in adapting to changes.
  • Possibly a high threshold for beginning and finishing assignments.

AS students often feel more stressed than an average student, sometimes by different things that students usually do. Studying for an exam might not cause stress but a small change in the schedule or arrangements might bother them.

Many AS persons suffer from hypersensitive senses. Their concentration and listening comprehension can be compromised by

  • noisy and echoing spaces such as lecture rooms and cafeterias
  • bright lights and strong smells.

Sensory overload can cause panic attacks or for the person to freeze and shut away inside their own mind.

Studying, teaching and counseling

Students need support in particular at the beginning of their studies, in a new environment and at a new stage of life. Helpful things include

  • a chance to get to know the institution and the provided services beforehand
  • personal welcome information and guidance to the institution services and peer support
  • study counseling and support
  • route guides and maps of the campus area.

Many AS students haven't been diagnosed with the disorder or they aren't totally aware of their special condition. They don't always realize that they need support or that there is help available. If you notice that a student needs support, offer it or direct the student to talk to an expert on the subject.

AS students generally need well-defined structure, schedules and requirements for their studies. They often face difficulties in practical training and larger assigments that require independent planning.

Counseling helps students to

  • finish things in time, in fitting order and scope
  • choose from the available courses realistically so that they are suitable in contents and arrangement
  • understand what is included in the degrees
  • understand the underlying structures of the studies.

Discussion is used to determine the need for support and the results are recorded in the student's personal study plan (HOPS, henkilökohtainen opintosuunnitelma, in Finnish). Progress is monitored periodically.

AS students don't easily come to the silent knowledge of the community so it is also important to handle matters that would seem quite ordinary. Older AS students can be of help by working as personal tutors.

Participation in class is made easier by

  • giving the lecture in a calm manner, clear voice and keeping to the topic at hand
  • minimizing outside stimuli
  • delivering the lecture structure and written material to students beforehand
  • definite and clear to understand materials and course instructions
  • informing the students about any changes as soon as possible
  • if needed, offering alternative ways for completing assignments instead of group work or discussions
  • having an undisturbed seat and using a baseball cap, sunglasses or earmuffs
  • taking notes on a laptop computer as audio or visual records.

Private conversations with a fixed lecture partner after the lecture can help the student to understand the subject discussed in class better.

Exam and grading principles - clarity, flexibility and alternatives

  • Unambiguous exam questions
  • Chance to ask for clarification
  • If needed, extra time, a separate quiet space, option to write the answers using a computer
  • If needed, individual counseling on how to use the time given to complete the exam
  • Alternatives, such as replacing a written exam with an oral one.

It would be helpful if the topic of the AS student's thesis could be based on their own interests and tied in with their other studies. Writing the thesis is easier if

  • the student begins writing the thesis as soon as possible
  • the workload is divided into smaller parts and there are routines, for example writing 1,000 words a day at the same time every day
  • there is continuous and instant feedback, encouragement and motivation.

Everyday life of a student

AS students often face their biggest challenges in everyday life, social situations and experiencing rejection. Many feel it is important to have

  • encouragement and hand-to-hand guidance in getting into student clubs and associations as well as into groups of friends
  • support in everyday activities, for example, handling money, applying for student financial aid or settling in to a new place of living
  • a support person and peer support from other students
  • counseling and support services by, for example, study counselor, study psychologist and a curator.

Many practices that promote accessibility help all the students - take a look at other guides on

More information:

Seminars in English

Seminar On Human Rights and Persons with Disabilities in Higher Education

2 December 2009 at 11.00 - 16.3, PharmaCity, Lecture Hall 1, Itäinen Pitkäkatu 4, Turku

The seminar programme >>

Accessibility is for everyone

The third national accessibility seminar organized by ESOK project will be held in Helsinki on 6.-7. May 2009. The number of participants at the moment 112.

Accessibility is for everyone > >