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Bath Autism Summer School

Dr Mark Brosnan and colleagues from the University of Bath discuss the Bath Autism Summer School, a residential event that gives autistic students the chance to experience various aspects of university life.

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Authors: Dr Mark Brosnan, Chris Ashwin, Ailsa Russell

Bath Autism Summer School

In early September each year, the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath (UK) runs the Bath Autism Summer School (BASS) for young people on the autism spectrum who are thinking of going to university.

As a university, an obvious focus for us is to support those who are considering higher education. Higher education can be a gateway to a successful career, and yet worries and concerns around the transition to university can prevent people on the autism spectrum applying or dropping-out early.

BASS is in its fourth year and typically has around 30 participants, all on the autism spectrum and thinking of going to university (not necessarily Bath!). BASS is residential, running for three days and two nights. Participants experience many aspects of student life during the day, and during the evening in the halls of residence. As is typical in many universities, the halls of residence have a shared kitchen with individual bedrooms.

The sessions focus on general university life skills, rather than discipline-specific skills (such as physics or sociology) and we start with existing students on the autism spectrum recounting their experiences. Sessions include:

  • developing and maintaining friendships
  • academic aspects of student life
  •  social-cultural aspects of student life
  • clubs and societies.

Last year, for example, we ran a humour workshop in which the principles of developing a humorous script were practiced, resulting in drama students performing two of scripts developed by the participants.

BASS is supported by ‘student ambassadors’ who are current students that help out with all the aspects of BASS, including staying in the halls of residence. The ambassadors provide a student’s perspective on university life, and a great deal of informal information for the participants.

Yearly evaluations of BASS have consistently included very positive feedback from the participants. As an additional example, we had an email from a parent who said:

‘My daughter had an amazing time and hasn't stopped talking about it. I have not seen her so happy in a long time. She said that the ambassadors were lovely and it was lovely for her to mix with like-minded people. For a girl who hates to leave home and never stays away, the statement "I wish I could have stayed longer with everyone" says it all. It had made the option of university a lot less frightening’.

Attendance at BASS has been free to participants thanks to the financial support we have had from charities such as Robert Burgess (Business Administration 1994), The Baily Thomas Charitable Fund and the Bath Alumni, and we are seeking donations to maintain the free element of BASS for future years. More information, including a film of the participants at BASS, can be found on our website.

Further reading

Bath Autism Summer School

The National Autistic Society – Further and Higher Education

Date added: 1 June 2016