Health Challenges Story

Overcoming ASD through University

Chris and David, pictured on the day of their graduation at Ulster University

Chris and David Howard, twins from Bangor, were diagnosed with Autism in 2007 when they were 6. Being labelled at this stage of their lives provided many challenges during their time in education, but despite this, they both made it into Ulster University to study History.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability due to differences in the brain, and can impact people’s communication and social interaction skills. People with ASD often have different ways of learning or paying attention. Ulster University have a dedicated Autism research hub, aiming to conduct research that supports people with autism to engage in education, and to inform the development of policies based on the recommendations of the Autism Act, 2011.

Chris and David both made clear that autism affects them on a day-to-day basis in a number of ways that most people don’t even have to consider. Chris noted that “the extra sensitivity to noise can make commuting to work or uni a problem. And my over-reliance on routine and scheduling can cause problems too.” David mentioned his challenges with understanding social cues, “where I don’t understand things such as sarcasm, or can’t read body language at all

Outside of external research, Chris and David both spoke very highly of the practical student-based support available to them during their time at uni. “The university helped me a lot in terms of managing it,” Chris commented, “from a comfortable meeting early on, to the support of an ASD mentor, as well as note takers to assist with lectures. It was a delightful amount of help, and I can’t say I didn’t appreciate it.” David also said “The support it (the university) offered was superb.”

The great support provided by the university didn’t mean their time went completely smoothly. “Socialisation did present its issues,” said Chris, “due to both general nerves, and sometimes fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.” David also mentioned his struggles with socialisation, “being on the autistic spectrum just heightens that, as it means I have another layer of thinking to do when talking to people.” Despite these challenges during their time at uni, which are common for people with ASD, Chris and David both noted that the problems rarely got out of hand.

For what they enjoyed most about university, David loved the general feeling of the university, “The clubs I went to were fun, I met a lot of great people there and even managed to make some friends, all while getting the 2:1 I wished to achieve.” Chris also said a highlight of his time was the sense of community, “It was a very different sort of community from any I’d tried in my teenage years, where I could be myself and not be judged too much for it.”

Through all the challenges, Chris and David were both able to graduate with 2:1s at the end of their degrees, and both said any time that they spent with their best friends were their happiest memories.