Date Published: 1 July 2007

New Asperger support service to be launched at Cambridge University

Health News from the United Kingdom (UK).

A new service at the University of Cambridge will help to improve the lives of students and staff with Asperger Syndrome.

Students and staff in Cambridge University who have Asperger Syndrome will now be able to get rapid access to a diagnostic clinic and appropriate support via the University Disability Resource Centre (DRC) thanks to a donation from the Baily-Thomas Charitable Foundation.

Asperger Syndrome is a sub-group on the autistic spectrum, and affects the ability to socialize with others, communicate through small-talk, and leads the individual to have unusually narrow interests and a dislike of change. Asperger Syndrome results from atypical neurological development, and ultimately has a genetic cause. Approximately 1% of the general population have an autism spectrum condition.

A new study conducted by the Autism Research Centre (ARC) in Cambridge University's Department of Psychiatry, to be published in the journal Human Nature, reports that rates of autism and Asperger Syndrome are higher in the University than in the general population, particularly among students in the ?hard' sciences (physics, computer-science, engineering, mathematics).

According to Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the ARC, the high rates of Asperger Syndrome at the University of Cambridge may be because part of the psychological make-up of people with Asperger Syndrome is a strong fascination with systems. Such strong ?systemizing' may not be very useful when it comes to social skills but can be an asset and result in talent when it comes to academic skills, particularly in science. This was the topic of his Annual Disability Lecture last year, delivered at St John's College.

Professor Baron-Cohen said

We are delighted that the Baily-Thomas Foundation have provided this support which will support students and staff with Asperger Syndrome to enjoy their time in Cambridge, and fulfil their potential. We have seen too many cases in the past of students with Asperger Syndrome who have dropped out of University, because of unmet needs?.

Among the difficulties that students with Asperger Syndrome face are feeling high levels of social anxiety in groups, especially large lecture theatres, and being unable to switch their attention to new topics once they are engaged in one activity. These difficulties arise because of hyper-sensitivity to detail and sensory stimuli, and a learning style that prioritizes depth over breadth.

Students or staff with suspected Asperger Syndrome who are seeking help will now be fast-tracked for a specialist diagnostic assessment in a dedicated clinic for Asperger Syndrome in adulthood, and then referred to the Disability Resource Centre for ongoing support.

The new resource will also mean that Asperger Syndrome sufferers who are coming to Cambridge University will be contacted ahead of time to ascertain what their special needs are, and a package of support will be tailored to meet their requirements. The Asperger Resource Centre will also house a library of information about Asperger Syndrome, with links to useful local services.

Judith Jesky, Head of the DRC said

Asperger Syndrome is one of the more common disabilities at University of Cambridge and we are pleased that this new service will mean this University is at the forefront of developing appropriate support. This donation was made possible by matched support from the University, who take their responsibilities towards all students with special needs extremely seriously ?.

Senior Tutors, College nurses, local GPs, and the University Counselling Service will all be alerted to this new service, which is a pilot project for 2 years.


Source: Cambridge University.

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