Profiling techniques used for student support plans with Asperger syndrome.  Are we getting it right?

Year: 2012

Author: Cope, Sandy, Zandian, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC's) are largely hidden disabilities which can, to varying degrees, have a considerable impact on an individual's life.  Wing and Gould (1979) identified typical behavioural characteristics of such individuals, commonly known as the triad of impairments as Asperger Syndrome.  This triad of behaviours are characterised as (1) Repetitive or stereotyped activities, where individuals are more likely to take comfort in routines.  Being forced out of this routine in university life can cause considerable stress and anxiety; (2) verbal and non-verbal language impairments may cause individuals to speak too loudly or too quietly with a monotonous tone and little intonation in the voice. This, together with a potential display of inappropriate body language has implications for group work and presentations skills; (3) social impairment (where individuals may not judge the intentions of others or give little or no eye contact)  can give the impression of aloofness or disinterest and have effects on the ability be part of a shared student experience.

Difficulties can present not only in fundamental differences in the way individuals learn, but also can have profound impairments in the interpersonal social domain (Lumbardo, 2007).  This can indirectly affect their ability to study through broad impairments in both self-referential cognition and empathy.  This has implications for non-academic student life which could directly affect either retention or achievement.  It is this non-academic student life which is typically missed in the profiling of student support plans.

Whilst detailed figures have not been routinely collected in many countries, there is growing acknowledgement that adults with undiagnosed ASC's are larger than previously estimated.   The Autism Research Centre, Cambridge proposed in 2001 the ratio of individuals to population in the UK to be 1 to 166, which it then revised in 2009 to 1 to 100.  It also recently released a study (Baron-Cohen et al, 2012) diagnosing ASC's as more common in IT-rich regions because of the genetic links of family members and the clustering to subjects such as engineering, physics, computing and mathematics.

Research is being undertaken in the UK to see whether support plans in Universities ignore the 'whole person' or 'holistic approach' in profiling with consequences for University life and achievement. The profiling technique used should include non-academic life and also take into account an outside view of the student, for example, by using a close friend or family member, as individuals often cannot see their own behaviour.