‘Here I come again’: the cost of success for higher education students diagnosed with autism

Andrea MacLeod, Julie Allan, Ann Lewis, Christopher Robertson

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This qualitative study used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to consult with 16 autistic UK higher education (HE) students about their experiences of success. An in-depth participatory approach encouraged participants to become co-analysts of their data.

Participants offered counter-narratives to deficit-based interpretations of autism, giving accounts of making themselves ‘extra-visible’ as autistic in order to assert their rights. The autism diagnosis was perceived both as an aid to self-understanding and a cause of additional barriers. In raising awareness of their own needs, participants contributed to broader understandings of autism within their academic communities, inadvertently becoming educators and role models. The research highlights the extra effort required by autistic students to thrive within higher education and the barriers imposed by current requirements to both pursue formal diagnosis, and to disclose it in order to receive adjustments. The research was novel in its approach and in its focus on success, revealing original findings in relation to the challenges and barriers faced by high-achieving autistic students, and the implications for a more inclusive higher education curriculum and environment are considered.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Inclusive Education
Early online date3 Nov 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Nov 2017


  • Higher education
  • autism
  • disclosure
  • Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
  • inclusive curriculum


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