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Aspergers Syndrome

Information for staff on Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)

 What is Aspergers Syndrome?

AS is a neurological difference which is part of the autism spectrum. A key aspect of this spectrum is an absence of ‘theory of mind’: awareness of the mental world of beliefs and desires, and in particular that other people can have these. Students with AS range from normal to high IQ.

The National Autistic Society estimates that the prevalence of Asperger’s Syndrome is 36 people in 10,000. That does not sound like very many, but anecdotally, the incidence in HE is rising. Young people who have received learning support for AS at school are arriving in HE with expectations of inclusivity, just as dyslexic people have been since the early 1990s.

At DMU, Student Services offers support for AS students in the Disability Unit and Student Learning Advisory Service. However, it is important that all staff are aware of the nature of AS and of learning and teaching approaches which can be helpful. It is recognised as a disability, and hence our response to it is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act Part IV (also known as SENDA).

The three common problem areas for AS people are:

Social interaction

They often seem aloof or odd to other people, and find it hard to understand another person’s feelings and thoughts. Their apparent eccentricity may result in bullying and ostracism. They often need to learn appropriate social behaviour as a set of rules, without appreciating emotionally why this is necessary.


AS often causes a student to be very literal with language. They may seem repetitive and pedantic, or avoid speaking to others through fear of ‘getting it wrong’. On the other hand, they will often speak at great length about their interests without realising that this can be boring. They may also be unaware of body language and ‘hints’ and subtleties of conversation.


The need for routine and insistence on sameness can be very strong. While easily distracted, an AS student may also confuse relevant and irrelevant information and focus on inappropriate details. Poor motor skills and co-ordination may also be present, and sensitivity to noise, lights and being touched. All these indicators lead to a lack of adaptability and flexibility, especially in new situations.


Positive aspects of Aspergers Syndrome in Higher Education?

AS often allows a student to show:

These are features of AS which can help someone be a hard-working student. The stereotype of the ‘absent-minded professor’ is probably based on AS people. With a strong support system and a powerful interest in a field of study, people with AS often find they have just what it takes to make their University lives very successful.


Areas for support



 Transition and induction

Lectures and tutorials

Organisational support

    The student may need a mentor or assistant to help with:




Exam arrangements

‘Flexibility in lectures, exams arrangements, orientation training, placements and training of key members of staff can be an essential prerequisite for students successfully completing their academic careers. This does not have to compromise academic requirements.’ Blamires & Gee:


Technical support


Peer support and awareness raising




Social skills development

General Useful Stratagies


There is information for students with Asperger’s Syndrome at:

National Autistic Society:

University Students With Autism And Asperger's Syndrome:  

There is a leaflet for students available through Student Services/SLAS entitled ‘What is Asperger’s Syndrome?’.

The drop-in and group sessions at the Dyslexia Centre are for all students with specific learning differences, and this includes AS. Drop-ins can be booked by visiting SLAS reception on the first floor of Gateway House, or ringing 7254.

AS is recognised as a disability. The Disability Unit in Student Services can help students by arranging assessment by an Educational Psychologist and enabling them to apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance. The Disability Discrimination Act Part IV obliges us to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for students with AS, as we do for dyslexic students.

AS can lead to depression and sometimes alcohol and substance abuse. Refer student to Counselling and/or the mental health co-ordinator (Student Services).

For further information, contact David Pollak on ext 7831.

We acknowledge that this document draws substantially on the work of Marie Howley of the University of Northampton.



Attwood T (1998)  Asperger’s Syndrome – a guide for parents and professionals    London: Jessica Kingsley

Blamires M & Gee S (online) Raising Aspirations: Increasing the Participation of Students with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (Social Communication Difficulties) in Higher Education. Report of the HEFCE strand two disability ASPIHE project. (Available at:

[Accessed on 1.9.04]

Gray C  (1998) Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations with Students with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. In E Schopler, G Mesibov & L Kunce (Eds.) Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism? New York: Plenum Press


Harpur J, Lawlor, M & Fitzgerald, M (2004) Succeeding in College with Asperger Syndrome: A Student Guide. London: Jessica Kingsley

Howley, M (2004)  Learning support for students with autistic spectrum disorders. Presentation at DMU conference, ‘Specific learning differences in HE and FE: dealing with neurodiversity’. Copies available from David Pollak, Student Services:SLAS.

Howlin P (2nd ed 2004  Autism and Asperger Syndrome – preparing for adulthood    London: Routledge

Jackson L (2002)  Freeks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome – a user guide to adolescence   London: Jessica Kingsley

Jordan R (1999)  Autistic spectrum disorders – an introductory handbook for practitioners   London: David Fulton

Powell S (Ed.) (2003) Special Teaching in Higher Education; successful strategies for access and inclusion. London: Kogan Page

Willey LH (2003)  Asperger Syndrome in adolescence. London: Jessica Kingsley

In the development of this document, acknowledgement is made to Trinity College Dublin Student Disability Services, and to the University of Nottingham Disability Policy Advisory Unit.