Telling the University about your autism

Telling people about your autism at university is also known as ‘disclosure’ or ‘declaring a disability’. More information about what this means and why it might be important to you is available in this article.


What do we mean by declaration or disclosure?

You might not consider your autism to be a disability, but that’s how organisations like universities recognise that you may have some additional needs and the declaration prompts the University to make contact with you in order to explore any needs you may have and the support options available to you. Telling the university you have autism does not mean that you have to tell everyone you meet if you don’t want to, and nor does it mean that you will be forced to accept support you don’t want or need.

Why is it important to declare?

Some students don’t tell anybody at university about their autism, not even the university itself. Not declaring makes it difficult for students to get the support they need, both officially and from their friends and the other people around them. At school or college, you might not have received or even needed any support outside your family, and this may be the same at University. However, university is very different from school and college and there is a wide range of support available.


Disclosure is a necessary part of getting academic and/or financial support for any issues you might face related to your autism.

You will usually need Disabled Students Allowance to pay for things that cost money like mind mapping software,  equipment for recording lectures, note takers and specialist mentors.

Whether or not you apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and get any financial support to help with your studies, the university needs to know that you have an autistic spectrum condition in order to make any ‘reasonable adjustments’.   If you need extra time in your exams, a different location for exams, longer library loans and access to study spaces for disabled students, you need to tell the University. To find out more about the support available and to consider what, if any, adjustments are required to ensure you have the best possible university experience it is essential to declare to the University via the Student Services Disability Team. Even if you decide not to declare prior to your arrival at university or when starting your studies you can do so at a later date, by making an appointment to speak to someone in the Disability team at any point throughout your studies.


When I declare, who will find out?

When you declare, either on your application form or directly to Student Services, this is a confidential process. Your disability adviser will discuss with you what, if any, information needs to be shared and who it needs to be shared with. The Disability team will not tell the other students on your course; information is only shared with staff who are required to make adjustments, or with those who would benefit from being aware.

In order to enable your tutors to understand a bit more about you, and be able to support you, it is advisable to agree to this information being shared. In addition to this, you may wish to speak to your course team about particular elements of the course and any concerns you have. Your Disability Adviser would be happy to support you with this if you would like them to. You may also decide to share information with your peers where you think it may be helpful to understand a bit more about you, but this is entirely your choice.

How could this affect me?

What happens when students don’t declare?

The Autism&Uni research surveyed people with experience of attending and/or completing university, over 70% said they never told anyone they were autistic. Some of them were not diagnosed until after university. Students who were diagnosed before or during university and disclosed their autism were more likely to finish their course and get good grades.

70% of ex-students we spoke to said they never told anyone at university they were autistic.  Of that 70%, those who dropped out told us it was because they realise now they needed support with some aspects of university.

Even though in general they got good marks when they submitted work, they struggled to manage on their own, especially early in the course. They felt that they were unintentionally bullied or excluded by other students, who would have been more understanding if they knew that they had autism.

Several students who dropped out went back and completed university later, and they had a better experience because people knew they were autistic and they were able to access support and get on better socially.

If you get support as early as possible, preferably from the start of course, settling into uni is a lot easier.

Starting uni is an exciting time, but like any change is stressful for anyone. It can be particularly stressful if you are on the autistic spectrum because it involves so much uncertainty. It’s also a very busy time for the university, with lots of new students arriving and familiar ones returning. Getting the support you need in those first few weeks, even simple things like someone showing you around  all the places where your lectures will be held can be really important. In our surveys, lots of students didn’t tell anyone they were autistic until they were already really struggling, and that can be too late for it not to have an effect on you and your work. It takes time to process applications for support and send information to the relevant people, so the earlier you can do it the better. You don’t have to wait for your results. You can get started with help from your firm choice university now – even if you end up going somewhere else.

Fern: I think it is good to disclose as university is much bigger than school and so there is nobody making sure everything is ok and you are managing. (read the whole article here)

What to do next?

Decide whether you would like to declare your autism to the University, and whether you are going to tell your peers.

Practical tips

Contact the Disability team to talk through your options and what this means if you have any concerns about declaring.

Talk to friends and family about whether to declare.

Questions to think about

  • When are you going to tell people?
  • Who are you going to tell?
  • What are the advantages in telling the University?
  • How are you going to tell them? (in person, on the phone, via email/text/social media, in a group, on their own)
  • How much are you going to tell them?
  • Do you mind if they tell other people?

Additional information and links

More information on disabily support can be found in our ‘Support for Success’ booklet here.


About the author

Leeds Beckett Disability Advice Team and Jackie Hagan, Learning Support Coordinator, UCA Rochester