Telling people at university about your autism

Telling people about your autism at university is also known as ‘disclosure’ or ‘declaring a disability’. More information about what this means and why it might be important to you is available in this article.


What do we mean by declaration?

You might not consider your autism to be a disability, but that’s how organisations like universities recognise that you may have some additional needs and the declaration prompts the University to make contact with you in order to explore any needs you may have and the support options available to you. Telling the university you have autism does not mean that you have to tell everyone you meet if you don’t want to, and nor does it mean that you will be forced to accept support you don’t want or need.

Why is it important to declare?

Some students don’t tell anybody at university about their autism, not even the university itself. Not declaring makes it difficult for students to get the support they need, both officially and from their friends and the other people around them. At school or college, you might not have received or even needed any support outside your family, and this may be the same at University. However, university is very different from school and college and there is a wide range of support available. The University needs to know that you have an autistic spectrum condition in order to make any ‘reasonable adjustments’.  If you need extra time in your exams, a different location for exams, longer library loans and access to study spaces for disabled students, you need to tell the University. To find out more about the support available and to consider what, if any, adjustments are required to ensure you have the best possible university experience it is essential to declare to the University via the Disability Advice Team. Even if you decide not to declare prior to your arrival at university or when starting your studies you can register with Disability Advice at any point throughout your studies.

When I declare, who will find out?

When you declare; either on your application form or directly to the Disability Advice team this is a confidential process. Your Disability Adviser will discuss with you what, if any, information needs to be shared and who it needs to be shared with. The Disability Advice team will not tell the other students on your course; information is only shared with staff who are required to make adjustments, or with those who would benefit from being aware. Further guidance about how we manage your information can be found here under ‘how we manage your information’. In order to enable your tutors to understand a bit more about you, and be able to support you; it is essential to agree to this information being shared. In addition to this, you may wish to speak to your course team about particular elements of the course and any concerns you have. Your Disability Adviser would be happy to support you with this if you would like them to. You may also decide to share information with your peers where you think it may be helpful to understand a bit more about you, but this is entirely your choice.

How could this affect me?

What happens when students don’t declare?

The Autism&Uni research surveyed people with experience of attending and/or completing university, over 70% of those surveyed said they didn’t tell anyone they were autistic. Some students were not diagnosed until after university.

Research suggests that students who were diagnosed before or during university and declared their autism were more likely to complete their course and get good grades.

However, of the 70% of students we surveyed who chose not to declare, those who left university prior to completing their course, told us it was because they now realise that they needed support with some aspects of university. Even though in general the students got good marks when they submitted work, they said that they struggled to manage without any support, especially early in the course.

Some students also felt that they were unintentionally bullied or excluded by other students, who may have been more understanding if they knew that they were autistic. The university takes reports of bullying very seriously and encourages any student who feels they have experienced bullying or hate crime to seek support and/or report the incident.

Several of the students who left their course prior to completion and then returned to their studies later, said that they had a better experience because people knew they were autistic, and this meant they were able to access support and get on better socially. These students told us that getting support as early as possible, preferably from the start of course, made settling into university a lot easier as it is such an uncertain time, in spite of also being an exciting time.

Getting support in those first few weeks, even simple things like someone showing you around the campus and where your lectures will be held can be really important. In our surveys, lots of students didn’t tell anyone they were autistic until they were already really struggling, and in some situations, this meant that their work or/and wellbeing was affected.

It takes time to process applications for support and send information to the relevant people, so the earlier you can inform the University the better. You don’t have to wait for exam results (e.g. A level results) or a confirmed place at University, you can contact us now – even if you end up going somewhere else.

Fern: I think it is good to disclose as university is much bigger than school and so there is nobody making sure everything is ok and you are managing. (read the whole article here)

What to do next?

Think about whether you would like to declare

Practical tips

In some ways, making a decision to tell the university officially about your autism has obvious benefits with clear boundaries. Declaring means you can access support. The University will tell you what information and evidence they need from you and will not pass any information on without your permission.

If you decide not to declare on your application form, or have not received a diagnosis, you can tell the University at any time throughout your studies by contacting the Disability Advice Team to talk through your options and what this means if you have any concerns about declaring.

Talk to friends and family about declaring.

Questions to think about

Here are some questions that might help you to think about declaring:

  • Do you want to declare on your application?
  • Would you like to talk to the Disability Advice team directly?
  • Do you want to access support at the start of your studies? – if you do, you will need to engage with the Disability Advice team in good time before you start your course
  • Do you want your tutors to know?
  • Are there any other people within the University you would like to know (in order that adjustments can be implemented)?
  • Would you just like to access support from DSA but not tell your tutors (this will prevent adjustments being implemented)?

About the author

This article was contributed by the Leeds Beckett Disability Advice Team