Asperger's Syndrome

This resource aims to assist students who have Asperger’s Syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and who are studying or intend studying at tertiary level.

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Strategies for Successful Study

Tertiary study is challenging. It is important that students undertake a realistic study load and consider disclosure as institutions cannot meet individual needs without an understanding of the issues. Students can maximise their chances of success by developing a range of study strategies and by using the various services available.

Students may find it useful to explain to others the effects of Asperger’s Syndrome and the possible impact on study. For example:

"...I like people, but I find them most strange, illogical, petty and superficial. I can intellectually grasp, but not relate to their motives..."

"...I found that people would stare at me if my clothing was in disarray so I used the following checklist each morning: Shoes are matching; Shirt tucked in; Shoe laces tied; Socks are not caught in trousers; Hair combed..."

Preparing for Study

"...When I was at school my teachers used to write in a communications book, all the tasks I needed to do each day. I have kept this up myself..."

Study Techniques and Tips

Lectures and tutorials ¿

  • Attend all lectures, tutorials and laboratory sessions, especially the first ones when most of the important information is given about the course. Find out what was covered in any sessions missed.
  • Arrive early and decide where to sit: at the front to maximise concentration as there are fewer distractions; at the back next to an aisle or an exit door if breaks or movement are necessary.
  • If concentration is a problem, consider attending repeat lectures and ask lecturers for copies of notes or other material.
  • Do preparatory reading for all lectures and tutorials.
  • If organising material or writing quickly is a problem, use a laptop to take notes or explore support options through the DLO.
  • Do not interrupt in lectures unless students are invited to do so.
  • Students are expected to participate but not dominate tutorial discussions: learn and practise cues for taking turns in conversation; find a balance between contributing and listening to others.
  • Avoid behaviour that others will consider odd or rude, for example repeating questions/comments and speaking thoughts aloud.
  • Be fully prepared for tutorial presentations: practise and time delivery; organise notes and highlight key points; prepare questions to stimulate discussion; make eye contact with the audience. Source oral presentation skills information.

"...Sometimes I feel as if I don't belong, I feel uncomfortable in tutes or at lunchtime when everyone else seems to know where they're going and what they're doing... "

Preparing Assignments ¿

  • Clarify the required academic style for written assignments. Ask lecturers and Academic/Study Skills Advisers for copies of model assignments.
  • Explore concept maps and software such as Inspiration and Endnote to facilitate organising ideas, planning, structure and referencing tasks.
  • Prioritise tasks and reading; determine and focus on purpose of reading before beginning; record main points and bibliographic details at the same time as reading.
  • Source information about study skills through the Academic/Study Skills unit or online, for example Welcome to UniLearning.

Exams ¿

Make arrangements early for any alternative assessments through the DLO.

  • Select relevant material and gear revision to suit exam style. Seek explanations for anything not clearly understood.
  • Explore memory enhancement techniques such as Mind Tools.
  • Plan and adhere to times for each question in exams.
  • Use relaxation techniques during exams.

"...I find help in exams useful, I sit in a room by myself..."

Dealing with Stress ¿

Students need to learn how to recognise stress factors and manage stress levels. Stress factors may include:

  • Less flexible timelines or assessment
  • Dissatisfaction with assignments or essays
  • Negative feedback or low marks
  • Unexpected changes such as cancelled, rescheduled or relocated classes
  • Pace of course
  • Absenteeism
  • Unpleasant or uninteresting topics
  • Social interaction.

"...I used to go to the library at lunchtime to read. Even if I'd had a difficult morning this would relax me..."

Some suggestions for managing stress include:

  • Talk to a counsellor or the Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) about triggers and management techniques
  • Find a space on campus to use as a quiet retreat
  • Practise most effective relaxation techniques
  • Develop and practise social skills and managing personal interactions
  • Cultivate friendships: join clubs and study groups and online discussion lists.

"...On the internet there is always someone who'll talk to me and I find it easier to talk when people aren't looking at me..."

Information and Resources

All tertiary institutions offer student support services as well opportunities for extra-curricular and social activities. It is the student’s responsibility to make enquiries and follow up any issues.

Accommodations ¿

Students should initiate any enquiries about adjustments with the Disability Liaison Unit or Stop 1. Possible adjustments include:

  • flexible attendance requirements
  • extended course completion time
  • extended exam time, breaks or alternative location
  • provision of note-takers on-going counselling
  • quiet retreat area
  • assistive technology, hardware and software
  • alternatives to group task requirements
  • assistance negotiating needs during fieldwork placements
  • study skills appointments.

“...I took the first step to approach relevant services early even though I was anxious about this...all this help is available, but if you want to be successful at tertiary level, find a supportive staff member who understands Asperger’s who can facilitate communication strategies for you...and help you become more proactive...”

Disclosure ¿

Many of these suggestions can be implemented without disclosure. However, the institution will not be able to provide special consideration or accommodations without the relevant information. Students may make arrangements themselves or speak with the DLO who can then facilitate special consideration or adjustments while maintaining confidentiality. Advantages of disclosing Asperger’s Syndrome or other ASD include:

  • access to facilities and services including adjustments
  • better understanding from academic staff
  • greater emotional support.

"...I think it's a way to help people understand me..."

Student Rights ¿

Students who have a disability have rights under the Disability Discrimination Act. Students who feel their needs are not being met should discuss this with their lecturers or DLO. If dissatisfied, complaints may be first lodged through the institution’s internal procedures then taken to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Resources ¿

Online resources are very useful and easy to access. Academic/Study Skills Advisers and Library staff can suggest and help source study-related information and references. Students may also refer lecturers and tutors to the Disability Liaison Officer (DLO) at their institution for further information and advice.

A list of peak bodies and peer support groups can be found in the White Pages under Disability Services and Support Organisations or by searching online.

Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education & Training (ADCET)

Disability Information Network Australia (DINA)

Friends’ Health Connection

OASIS - Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support

Tertiary Initiatives for People with Disabilities (TIPD)

Towards Success series

Original publication (68KB) (The University of Melbourne and Australian Catholic University collaboration) funded by the Commonwealth Department of Education Employment Training and Youth Affairs under the Victorian Co-operative Projects for Higher Education Students with a Disability Committee, 1997.
Written by Reem Al-Mahmoud, Patricia McLean, Elizabeth Powell, Janette Ryan.
Illustration cartoons by Michael Leunig (reproduced with permission from The Age and Michael Leunig).
Revised version funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations under the National Disability Coordination Officer Program, 2009.