Autism Accreditation Scheme Award

NAS_ResizedLogoGlasgow Caledonian University's Student Wellbeing Service has become the first in the UK to achieve Autism Accreditation from the National Autistic Society.

The accreditation is the UK's only autism-specific quality assurance programme for bodies providing services to autistic people and illustrates GCU's commitment to supporting its autistic students. 

Principal Pamela Gillies CBE FRSE, Principal and Vice Chancellor of GCU, said: "Glasgow Caledonian University is delighted that its Student Wellbeing Service has become the first in the UK to be awarded National Autistic Society Accreditation. The accreditation recognises our pioneering support for our autistic students, much of which is already informing the work of other universities across the UK and Europe. The Wellbeing team is, like all our staff, fully committed to ensuring that GCU provides a welcoming and nurturing environment for all our students, regardless of their background or the personal challenges they may face. I am deeply impressed by the team's dedication to this task."

Catriona Mowat, the Wellbeing Service's Disability Manager, said: "Becoming the first to be accredited is a fantastic achievement, and everyone who has worked so hard towards this feel rightly proud of our success. Going through the accreditation scheme was really helpful – enabling us to identify and reflect on what we were getting right, and where we could continue to develop and improve. Over the past decade GCU has worked hard to understand and support the needs of our autistic students. We recognised that as well as delivering more inclusive services, we also needed to devise and deliver additional services to meet their specific needs. 

"Our innovative approach was kick-started in 2010 when we ran a summer programme for autistic students to address anxieties about starting university, and to meet staff and make friends before starting. The University now has more than 100 students identified as autistic, and we support them through tailored services such as mentoring, the 'Socialeyes' programme which supports the understanding and development of social communication skills, a social group, and an employment skills and supported work placement project. We also train our colleagues on autism awareness and teaching inclusively. We have seen the benefits of this approach in our improved retention of autistic students, as well as lots of really encouraging feedback - we know our approach works because our students tell us it does. 

"Similar programmes are now run at universities across Scotland and we have even had visitors from universities in Hungary, who piloted their own programme last year following a fact-finding visit to GCU. Like all universities, we are facing the challenges of adapting our services and support for autistic students in this time of social distancing. Our students are already meeting their mentors using video calls and we are devising an online version of our summer transition programme. In such uncertain times, it is more important than ever to offer well thought out and structured support to our autistic students.

The service supports a range of students throughout their time at GCU whether they are experiencing stress, homesickness, mental health issues, or having difficulties with their course due to a disability. It gives practical, counselling, mental health and wellbeing support through for example, one-to-one appointments, group sessions and workshops. To achieve accreditation, the University's Student WellBeing Service also ran a photography exhibition and created a platform for student videos to promote World Autism Awareness Week; piloted an employment scheme; raised awareness at schools, ensured GCU's Freshers' Fayre was more autism friendly by, for example, providing quiet spaces, and created an autism toolkit and audit of practices.

Christine Flintoft-Smith, Head of Autism Accreditation at the National Autistic Society, said: "We're delighted to accredit the Glasgow Caledonian University team. University staff have worked incredibly hard to adapt and improve their practice – and this is already making a difference to the autistic students they work with. We hope that their achievement will encourage other universities and colleges to work with us and improve their own autism practice."

Why does this matter?

Around 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. Some have a formal diagnosis, others don’t. This means that we all know someone with autism. This could be a family member, a partner, a friend, a colleague, or yourself.

Autistic people can face real challenges in a university environment where there is constant change, a need to multi-task, self-organise and prioritise tasks, where there are lots of different people to deal with, and lots of noise and bustle.

Greater staff awareness, considering the needs of autistic people when we design our services, courses and spaces, and some extra support when needed, can make all the difference.

What happens next?

We are asking every member of the GCU community (staff and students) to consider what steps you could take to help GCU become more autism friendly.

Here’s a few suggestions.


1. Learn more about autism and how it affects people

National Autistic Society:

GCU guidance and training opportunities for staff: disability/staffmaterials/teachingstudentsontheautismspectrum


2. Ask/find out how your team or department supports the needs of autistic people

If your team would like some support to consider this, or to review current practice, contact the Disability Team for a chat. We’d be happy to help.


3. Share your experience

Know about any initiatives or good news stories we can share, to inspire others and create greater awareness about autism?

Tweet about it! Using hashtag #GCUAutismFriendly

The Disability Team would love to hear your views on how we can make GCU more autism friendly -especially if you consider yourself to be on the autism spectrum.

For more information, or to offer your views, contact the Disability Team.