In this interview I talk to Matthew Day, the service coordinator of Number 6, an Autism Initiatives service in Edinburgh. They provide a one stop place for people on the spectrum, providing a socializing hub and staff that work with ASD affected students at university to help them with planning and note taking (as an example). This interview is part of the Autism Feature Story article.
How would you summarize Autism in one sentence?
It’s difficult to have a one sentence answer because we do training on it and it takes about six hours. I would say it’s a different way of processing information, whether that it’s a different wiring in the brain or whatever is the cause of that, I think it is a different way of receiving and giving out information. Whether that is information in terms of someone speaking or sensory stimuli, I do think it is a different way of processing information as a very basic sentence. There is a lot about the fact that the way we process information is very relevant about how we interact with people, so that’s where a lot of differences are often noticed, but I still feel it (Autism) is about information processing and the differences there. I don’t think it (Autism) is something you can fit into a little box.
What do you think are the common misconceptions of ASD?
There is a huge number. There is a common misconception that it is a learning disability or those that have ASD will have a learning disability. There is a misconception that people with Autism have some innate desire to avoid social contact. There are myths amongst even those who work with people with Autism that they won’t be very good at socializing. Whereas I think a lot of people that I work with are good at it; they may do it differently and they may have to put a lot of conscious effort and therefore become exhausted from it but I feel that links back to processing information differently. Although there are some people who may not want to socialize very much, it doesn’t make it an innate part of Autism.
What challenges do you think will university students with ASD face?
What they might face -as some won’t face them- at University is the difficulty of the social aspects of Uni. The expectations of sharing rooms might be an issue. A lot of the way teaching is done such as group tasks may be a problem. Understanding when work will need to be done. I know people who know the subject inside out but when asked a specific question they will struggle. If you asked them to tell you everything they know about a subject, some could do it better than anyone else but if you asked them to cut it down and filter out the other topics or to take it on from a different angle can be difficult sometimes. They may have problems filtering out the unnecessary information; making choices and prioritizing the important parts that are required for that part of the course. The teaching style may be a problem, it depends on what course they are doing, who the lecturer is. A lot of people we work with tend to be much more visual thinkers so it can be different. The environment of the lecture theatre can be a problem; it can be too big, too noisy, sensory issues and sensory overloads do play a part here. For a lot of people here, they are away from home and away from safety for the first time so there are loads of things, it isn’t just about the work. We do some work with students and people have said to us that we are doing the work for them – my staff (class assistance) are very capable of doing the work for them, they are capable of helping the students organize and plan how to do the work but for the actual work itself it is above the staff to do the work for them. This is another misconception to a certain extent. Within different years, a person could have a really good first year but they find a lot of challenges in the second year; there’s more of an expectation for them to “get on with things” while in first year they may be given a lot more direction with it. In first year they may be living in halls of residence and having a lot of things on site which they won’t have later when they are expected to look for their own flat. There are issues when it comes to applying for flats and those issues being a student. The environment of the flat may be an issue; some get into a bit of bother if they are in a noisy area, they don’t sleep because of it and therefore, their work suffers. There are a lot of issues, you could go for ages but these are only some of them.