Photo of young woman in spectrum logo with quote

Going to university is a daunting experience for many people. It can be particularly overwhelming for autistic students. Moving away from home, meeting new people and keeping on top of the workload can be difficult to manage all at once, especially for students on the spectrum.

The Disabled Students Allowance helps to reduce barriers to learning that disabled students (including autistic students) might experience. With the new university term around the corner, we spoke to Rose Anne, a recent graduate, about her DSA application process, and Chloe, a DSA assessor, about her experience of working for the DSA.

Rose Anne Evans, graduate, aged 22

Headshot photo of young woman outsideWhich university did you go to?

I have just graduated from the University of York.

What did you study?

French and German.

How did you find out about DSA?

Originally, I didn’t apply for DSA as I didn’t think I fitted the criteria - despite having previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition. When I was diagnosed with autism during my year out, the team at my local autism service, along with one of my friends, told me about DSA. I realised that applying might just help me to achieve my potential throughout my time at university.

What was the process to apply? Can you talk us through each step?

I had a look on the UCAS page which talks about DSA and gives a step-by-step guide on how to apply. After checking the Student Finance England website, I realised that I was eligible because I have a diagnosis of autism and have also had a mental health condition.

I made a photocopy of my autism assessment and letter from my mental health professional to prove that I was eligible. I sent this off to DSA together with the application form that I had downloaded and filled in.

After a few weeks, I received a letter saying I’d been awarded Disabled Students Allowance, so I arranged an appointment with a local DSA assessor.

On the day of the assessment, I took someone with me to wait outside the room, as I was quite apprehensive. Despite my worries, the person doing the assessment was really friendly and helped me to feel at ease. She asked me about the support I already received and a little bit about what I felt would be beneficial.

A few weeks later, I received another letter to say my equipment had been approved, and so I then contacted the different suppliers to get my equipment.

It was really exciting when the printer, laptop and specialist software came in the post, and I was later given training on how to use the software. DSA also funded a study skills tutor and a mentor from Spectrum First, and the Brain in Hand system (a support system for autistic people), which includes red button support from the National Autistic Society.

How did this support help you?

The equipment, one-to-one support and Brain in Hand, were particularly helpful during stressful times at university.

Having people there each week to talk things through really helped me, and being able to use Brain in Hand allowed me to feel more independent and less reliant on other people for support.

My advice to anyone who is thinking of applying for DSA would be to apply as soon as you can. It just means you get the support in place as quickly as possible.

Chloe Berman, DSA assesor

Headshot photo of woman wearing glassesWhat support is available for autistic students?

There’s a wide range of support available for autistic students through the Disabled Students Allowance. Anything from one to one specialist study skills and mentoring support to funding towards equipment like a laptop and support systems such as Brain in Hand with red button support from the National Autistic Society. For some students there’s also help with travel costs. For example, if you can’t use public transport independently, it can help with taxi costs.

How do I make contact?

If you’re a full time undergraduate student you can apply for DSA through your online Student Finance England log in. If you’re part time or a post-graduate you’ll have to fill in a form. You can find out about both these options here.

What do I do to apply?

Firstly you need to send proof of your disability. This can be a letter from your GP or other medical practitioner. For students with autism spectrum conditions it can be a copy of an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) if you have one.

You should send this to: dsa_team@slc.co.uk.

If you don’t have any of these documents, ask your doctor to complete this form.

It’s a good idea to keep a copy of whatever evidence you send to the DSA team.

What happens? Can you explain step by step?

After you’ve sent your medical evidence, the DSA will write to you and ask you to book a ‘study needs assessment’ at an access centre. They will include a link to help you find the nearest centre to you.

The assessment is not a test. It’s just a conversation with the needs assessor. You can talk about what support you’ve had in the past and the needs assessor will talk about what they can recommend to support you at university. They will probably show you software and other things. It usually takes between one and two hours.

After the assessment the needs assessor will write a report, which makes recommendations for your support needs. This report is sent to the DSA team. It can also be sent to your university/college if you’d like them to have a copy. You will receive the report within 10 working days after your needs assessment.

The DSA team will look at the recommendations made in the report and then they will write to you and tell you what to do next. This letter will include information on how to order any laptop and software that has been recommended and how to arrange your support.

Why is this important for autistic students?

Some autistic students find new environments, or new people, or change difficult to manage and going to university is a big step. For some students it’s the first time they have moved away from home and this can take some time to get used to. Students at university are often expected to be more independent than those at school or college and this too can pose challenges. DSA can recommend strategies and tools to assist with all these and other difficulties.

Find out more about the Disabled Student Allowance here, and how you can apply.

Apply for the DSA