From surviving to thriving: A study of autistic students and the online learning experience.

Long, Marilyn (2023). From surviving to thriving: A study of autistic students and the online learning experience. Postgraduate Research Poster Competition, The Open University.


The “From surviving to thriving” poster describes the process of a pilot study into the realities for autistic students in Higher Education. The participants in the study are current autistic students at the Open University with no other commonality in terms of subject, personal circumstances, nor experience of either the Open University or of higher Education generally. This investigation into ‘inclusion’, ‘autism’, and ‘higher education’ from an autistic viewpoint fills a gap in the field and breaks new ground by being conducted by an autistic researcher with personal experience of exclusion from Higher Education. The study findings, based on the analysis of responses from 20 participants, suggest a shared experience of stereotypical views and misunderstandings about the realities for autistic students that impact negatively on their well-being. There is also an indication that the learning preferences and support needs of individual autistic students, including ‘no group work’ and ‘having printed course material available’, have a strong correlation. The study concludes with two key considerations: 1. a new approach to future learning design and practice based on investigations of autistic students as a discrete group with specific challenges, and with individual needs, should replace a current focus on learning provision based on the needs of a majority ‘non-autistic’ group; 2. the reviewed literature suggests that barriers to inclusion and unequal support provision relate to insufficient knowledge and understanding by academic staff, and that a reappraisal of training provision is crucial to realise the potential of all Higher Education students.

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