Wales

Autism: Swansea University students rise after help

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Media captionStudent Nicole Jones: "I've had to prepare myself for going out to the clubs because I never used to go out"

"It was a lot less scary than I imagined," said student Nicole Jones, about experiencing a night out during freshers' week.

She is part of a project with Swansea University and Gower College to help people with autism carry on learning.

"I've definitely had to consider the anxiety I get while doing new events," she said.

A total of 208 students with autism are studying at Swansea this year, up 22% on the previous academic year.

Ms Jones, who started her undergraduate degree in social science a few weeks ago, decided to make the move while at Gower College.

She opted to live in halls of residence, but admitted she had some reservations.

"I was afraid that I wouldn't budget successfully and I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to do some of the house work that I needed to do," she said.

"I've had to prepare myself for going out to the clubs because I never used to go out clubbing.

"I was worried that somebody might get drunk and start a fight with me, but it was a lot less scary than I imagined."

Image caption Ceri Low, from Gower College: "We build their skills so they're able to manage their work loads and their ambitions independently"

It is hoped the project will help to reduce anxiety among learners with autism, especially for those who may not previously have considered higher education, by providing support around lifestyle changes, such as accommodation and finance,

"I think a lot of the issue we had was that students just couldn't conceptualise what it would be like," says Heather Pickard-Hengstenberg, a specialist autism practitioner at Swansea University.

She said while many autistic learners would concentrate on getting to grips with the academic side of university life, some could often overlook things such as learning to do the laundry or cooking.

Ceri Low, a learning support coordinator at Gower College, said the project was about "building independence" in learners.

"We always provide support for them, maybe on a one-to-one level or small group session," she said.

"We build their skills so they're able to manage their workloads and their ambitions independently."

The college said 170 people identified themselves as having autism, up from 80 during the previous year.

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