In addition to the professionals who are working to assist autistic students, families also face a number of challenges as they strive to meet the service needs of their student as they transition to or attend university.
My child is over 18 years of age
Your child is legally an adult when they reach 18 years of age, regardless of their disability and level of functioning.
At age 18, parent(s) are no longer the legal guardian(s) of their child, unless appointed as such by the Office of the Public Advocate (Victoria, Australia). This ‘independence’ can create difficulties for parents when they want to support their children in tertiary education. Under the law, university staff cannot give parents any specific information about their adult child due to privacy issues. Staff can, however, inform parents about the general types of support their institute has available for any student with a disability.
Many institutions will allow staff to talk to parents about their student’s education if consent has been obtained from the student. Generally written consent is required, however some staff may prefer not to communicate directly with parents.
Please check with your student’s institution to find out about their policy and consent requirements.
Collaborating with staff
Knowledge about autism may differ between individual staff members. This could be due to differences in their experience of working with people diagnosed with autism. If you feel that staff are not well informed, you can refer them to the staff information pages in these materials. Staff time and resources can often be limited due to their work commitments. However, when staff are able and willing to take time to work closely with parents of autistic students, they comment about the usefulness of doing so.
Here are some examples from research studies showing what staff had to say about working with parents:
Staff: “The support that I’m getting is from the parents. The most information that I get is we have a parent says, this is my son. He has Asperger’s. Really communicating with the mother and the student at the same time is really good. Getting the information off them saying, look, he can do this, he can’t do that. If you do this, this won’t work, because it’s so specific.”
Staff: “I have a young man who is diagnosed and self-disclosed. I have felt that working as part of a team [with the student and the parent] from the onset has assisted all involved because we've collaborated and decisions that have been made, have been made in a more timely manner…I did record a lot of the information during the meetings and I also requested with the student's permission that the parent be involved. I was lucky enough that I knew – the rapport had been built prior to suggesting these meetings and the student had disclosed that he was very close to his mother. So the mother was very much involved.”
If you believe your child will only succeed in tertiary education with your support and that both of you should work closely with your child’s educators, it may be helpful to:
1. Have a discussion with your child about disclosing their autism diagnosis to the disability/accessibility support unit at the university.
2. Once disclosure has occurred, ask your student for their consent for you to speak directly with the disability/accessibility support staff and/or teachers.
3. Once your child has given their consent, contact the disability/accessibility support staff and/or teachers to find out the process for getting you involved in your student’s education.
It is important to be aware that:
• Every tertiary institution has its own policies.
• Staff work differently, so what one staff member or institution is willing to do may differ from what another staff member or institution will do.