This month is Autism Awareness Month, a month dedicated to increasing our understanding and awareness of neurodivergence, and it begins with the United Nations endorsed ‘World Autism Awareness Day’ on April 2. I spoke to Clare Malone from the Disability Service to gain some insight into what autism is and what supports are available on campus.
“Neurodiversity is the naturally occurring variation in the way that the brain works, in the case of autistic people this variation can be in areas such as social communication styles and sensory/information processing.”
Neurodiversity is the naturally occurring variation in the way that the brain works, in the case of autistic people this variation can be in areas such as social communication styles and sensory/information processing. The ‘autistic spectrum’ refers to the variation of the autistic experience across each individual. The broader term ‘neurodivergent’ can be used to refer to people with autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, or other specific learning differences.
It is thought that around one in a hundred people in Ireland are autistic and, although they make up a large portion of our College population, many of us are very undereducated around the subject. There is a lack of understanding around what it is like to be autistic and a lack of awareness as to what we as a college community can do to better accommodate the needs of our neurodivergent students.
You may have noticed the diverse choice of seating now available in the Lecky Library, with seats placed to allow a bit more privacy or chairs that face toward the window. This is a part of the TCD Sense sensory project that works towards establishing more sensory inclusive spaces and resources on campus. This includes the adapting of libraries and student spaces across Trinity. These seemingly minor alterations for many can have a major impact on the everyday lives of autistic students and staff.
The Neurodiversity Project was established by the Disability Service in July 2021 with the goal of improving existing supports and establishing additional resources to make sure that everybody can fully participate in all aspects of College life. The Trinity Autism & Uni toolkit is available on their website along with other useful resources for students seeking guidance on navigating the university experience. Something to look out for in the future is the launch of the disAbility Hub after the development of the Printing House Square in 2022. It will be a space for those in college and the wider community to connect.
“According to the Disability Service (2022), there are 876 people in Trinity who are medically categorised as being neurodivergent. However, it is estimated that, in actual fact, the number could be around 3,600…”
According to the Disability Service (2022), there are 876 people in Trinity who are medically categorised as being neurodivergent. However, it is estimated that, in actual fact, the number could be around 3,600 as the first figure is under-representative due to the time and costs required to attain a medical diagnosis. Daily drop-in appointments at the Disability Service are available to all students, whether you are experiencing challenges in College, or you are wondering if you may have a disability and are interested in seeking a diagnosis. They also offer information on how to get in contact with the assessment services and have information about the assessment resources offered at Trinity. This can be especially useful now in the run up to exams, with some autistic students needing specific adaptations to be made to their exam environments.
Talking about changes they would like to see in the College community, Faolán Doecke Launders, the newly elected chairperson of the Neurodiversity Society for 2022/23, says: “It’s hard to know in what way situations affect people, but I think that at least a universal recognition of “diversity of being” so to say would be a great place to start.’’ The Neurodiversity Society is a proposed society, meaning it is not yet recognised by the Central Societies Committee and can receive no funding support. However, this has no impact on students or staffs’ ability to join and participate in the society. For Doecke Launders, “it is a place where thinking and being different is not just accepted, but expected and celebrated.’’ The society is easy to join through a link on their social media accounts and you can keep track of any meetups and events that are coming up through their weekly emails.
“‘We’re all different, we’re all competing in different sports so to say. You can’t compare Olympic athletes when they compete in completely different sports — a sprinter compared to a boxer'”
The Neurodiversity Society is an important addition to campus as it helps to bring awareness to autism and neurodivergence as a whole, and moreover helps to reduce ableism in our community. Doecke Launder tells Trinity News, “neurodivergent people can lack self-confidence because for their entire lives they’re told ‘you are disabled, you are worse than literally everyone else’, and so our community allows people to become more confident by interacting with people who simply don’t care about comparing themselves to someone else”. “We’re all different, we’re all competing in different sports so to say. You can’t compare Olympic athletes when they compete in completely different sports — a sprinter compared to a boxer’’. “It’s important to have this society on campus to normalise divergent thoughts.” Doecke Launder concludes.
So, what can we as a College community do to better understand and accommodate the needs of autistic students and staff? Malone said that the first step is to talk with the neurodivergent community to gain an understanding of their experience, through social media posts, online groups, blogs and neurodivergent-led research that highlights the voices of Autistic people. The Ability Co-op podcast launched a 2021 Autism Awareness Month Special that shares insights into a range of student experiences. The Ability Co-op also has checklists and guidelines for Clubs and Societies at Trinity as to what they can do to make their practices more inclusive.
Hopefully, in this way, we can make campus life here at Trinity a more friendly and accepting place for those who have different abilities than us.