Teachers and careers advisers have a mandate to assist and encourage all their students in making the best choices when choosing and applying to university. However, many students with special educational needs are often overlooked in this process as they are simply not expected to succeed at university level for a multitude of different reasons.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case as many universities and organisations, including the government, now provide financial, pastoral and other support for SEN students. Here’s how to best help them with their decision in five key points:
1. The National Autistic Society provides a wealth of information for prospective students with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) as does the Aspergers Syndrome Foundation.
2. Many students with ASD find it hard to cope with a sudden onslaught of major changes and find it easier to stay at home while studying at university. However, if they choose to live away from home, they should be encouraged to consider two questions: Do they want to be able to come home regularly? Do they want to live in a city or a more rural campus location? Be ready to help them with that!
3. If they are considering living in halls with other students, then it is important to think about the social pressures inherent in such an arrangement and to investigate the available support systems already in place. They may prefer to rent a room in a landlord's house, with a family. most student unions have a list of approved landlords.
4. Another important issue is whether or not to disclose their disability as many worry that it will lead to discrimination from lecturers and support staff alike. However, the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for any university or college to discriminate against students with disabilities. In fact, disclosing a disability can be vital in making sure that students are treated fairly and given the help that they need; universities are required to make 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure that no one student is at a significant disadvantage.
That said, there is no legal requirement for students to disclose their disability and they should not be made to feel pressured into doing so. Disability Rights UK provides a handy FAQ to tell you more about the help available should a student choose to disclose their disability on their UCAS application.
5. Finally, students may be eligible for the Disabled Students Allowance. This is a non-means tested grant designed to help students with extra costs which are a direct result of their disability. The amount awarded will be based on the needs of the individual student. It is not paid directly to the student but is used by the institution to help with the purchase of specialized equipment, transport, non-medical assistants (e.g. scribes, etc) or other costs, such as photocopying.
University isn't right for everyone, special educational needs or not. The decision to undertake university study, take on an apprenticeship or go straight into work belongs to the individual student. It is imperative that they be presented with all those opportunities and in-depth information to allow them to make an informed decision as to the right path for them.