Supporting Students with Hidden Disabilities: Autistic Spectrum Condition

Libchats are a programme of discussions held at the University of Kent, initiated to ‘encourage innovation and improve community in the Information Services department.’

The most recent discussion took place in the lecture theatre of the newly built west wing of the University’s Templeman Library.  The speaker Natalie Savage is a Disability Adviser who supports students with a range of learning differences and also runs a support group for female students on the autistic spectrum. Natalie emphasized the idiosyncratic nature of Autism and warned of the dangers of generalization. However, there are perceived common traits that manifest in a variety of ways.

It is estimated that there are 700,000 people on the spectrum in the UK. Co-morbidities are common and these include epilepsy, dyslexia or depression. Recently there has been widespread movement away from negative descriptors such as ‘disabled’ and ‘deficit’ towards positive terms such as ‘difference’ and ‘diverse’.   Conversely to this, the phrase still used to describe the 3 common traits of ASC is Triad of Impairments. These are:

  1. Difficulty with social communication (verbal and non-verbal). Neuro-typical individuals express meaning through subtleties in body language, facial expression and tone of voice that can be difficult to read. Likewise, sarcasm, jokes or idioms (i.e, “take a seat” or “watch your step”) can be perplexing. It is recommended that you say what you mean and mean what you say. Do not promise something that cannot be delivered.
  2. Difficulty with social interaction. Starting and/or ending a conversation can be difficult, as well as picking up on cues. Risk of getting lost within the conversation as slow to respond (comparatively) due to processing information or dominating when speaking about a highly-focused area of interest. In response to the anxiety evoked by conversational situations, some individuals will have a strategy and rarely deviate from this. Some individuals on the spectrum will over-evaluate conversations afterwards and can be really self-critical/ catastrophising.
  3. Difficulty with social imagination (not general imagination) Individuals on the spectrum may have difficulty recognizing or understanding both their own emotions and those of others. There can be a lack of understanding of social contexts and etiquette such as physical proximity, hygiene or appropriate topics of discussion.

It is also common for individuals to find it difficult to imagine situations outside of their daily routine, make sense of abstract ideas, comprehend danger (i.e. crossing a busy road) or deal with change. Remedial actions involve pre-planning and developing rules or a routine.

Sensitivity to sound & light– this video imagines how this might feel to be hyper-aware of your surroundings  Important to consider when making changes to the library environment.

n.b. Some individuals on the spectrum can be hypo-sensitive.

Ideas for service provision

  • Support groups for females on spectrum to reduce vulnerability, improve self-esteem and build confidence.
  • ‘Orientation Event’ prior to start of term (2/3 day event with activities in accommodation block)
  • Celebrate Autism Awareness week to improve understanding of peers
  • ‘Phone Zone’ in Library and ‘noisy neighbor’ software (to negate sensory overload)
  • Reconfigurable furniture that can be moved away from crowds
  • Acoustic paneling to reduce noise reverberation
  • 1-2-1 tours of the Library throughout the term

More guidance at

Neuro-typical individuals can appear unpredictable and confusing to individuals on the spectrum. To build a connection and allow individuals on the spectrum to feel at ease don’t make assumptions. If you pathologise someone it can be a barrier, just be your warm, welcoming and accommodating selfs!

For future LibChat events see the blog at

Further information about this particualr event can be found on the blog at


Rebecca Daniels, CILIPinKent Communciations Officer

One response to “Supporting Students with Hidden Disabilities: Autistic Spectrum Condition

  1. “Disabled” isn’t a negative word, it’s in line with the social model of disability in that society does the disabling. I am autistic and proudly identify as disabled.

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