Telling people at university about your autism

This article is around the issues of telling people that you are autistic, also known as ‘disclosure’ or ‘declaring a disability’.


This is an important topic, as many students choose not to tell anybody at uni about their autism. You might not consider your autism to be a disability, but that’s how organisations like universities recognise that you may have some additional needs. By registering with the Disability Service and declaring your autism, the University is will make contact with you in order to explore any needs you may have and the support options available to you. Telling the university you have autism does not mean that you have to tell everyone you meet if you don’t want to, and nor does it mean that you will be forced to accept support you don’t want or need.

Why is it important to declare?

Not declaring makes it difficult for students to get the support they need, both officially and from their friends and the other people around them. At school or college, you might not have received or even needed any support outside your family, and this may be the same at University. However, university is very different from school and college and there is a wide range of support available.


How could this affect me?

What happens when students don’t declare?

Autistic students are more likely than other students to drop out of university, and this number rises for those who aren’t open about their autism. When we surveyed people with experience of attending and/or completing university, over 70% said they never told anyone they were autistic. Some of them were not diagnosed until after university. Students who were diagnosed before or during university and disclosed their autism were more likely to finish their course and get good grades.

70% of ex-students we spoke to said they never told anyone at university they were autistic

Those students who dropped out told us it was because they realise now they needed support with some aspects of university. Even though in general they got good marks when they submitted work, they struggled to manage on their own, especially early in the course. They felt that they were unintentionally bullied or excluded by other students, who would have been more understanding if they knew that they had autism. Several students who dropped out went back and completed university later, and they had a better experience because people knew they were autistic and they were able to access support and get on better socially.

If you get support as early as possible, preferably from the start of course, settling into uni is a lot easier. Starting uni is an exciting time, but like any change is stressful for anyone. It can be particularly stressful if you are on the autistic spectrum because it involves so much uncertainty. It’s also a very busy time for the university, with lots of new students arriving and familiar ones returning. Getting the support you need in those first few weeks, even simple things like someone showing you around  all the places where your lectures will be held can be really important. In our surveys, lots of students didn’t tell anyone they were autistic until they were already really struggling, and that can be too late for it not to have an effect on you and your work. It takes time to process applications for support and send information to the relevant people, so the earlier you can do it the better. You don’t have to wait for your results. You can get started with help from your firm choice university now – even if you end up going somewhere else.

What to do next?

Think about whether you would like to declare

Practical tips

In some ways, making a decision to tell the university officially about your autism has obvious benefits with clear boundaries. Declaring means you can access support. The University will tell you what information and evidence they need from you and will not pass any information on without your permission.

If you decide not to declare on your application form, or have not received a diagnosis, you can tell the University at any time throughout your studies by contacting the Disability Office to talk through your options and what this means if you have any concerns about declaring.

Talk to friends and family about declaring. The AHEAD Guide to Disclosure can also help you make a decision.

Questions to think about

Here are some questions that might help you to think about declaring:

  • Do you want to declare on your application?
  • Would you like to talk to the Disability Support team directly?
  • Do you want to access support at the start of your studies? – if you do, you will need to engage with the Disability Advice team in good time before you start your course
  • Do you want your tutors to know?
  • Are there any other people within the University you would like to know (in order that adjustments can be implemented)?

Additional information and links

AHEAD; A Guide to Disclosure

About the author

This article was contributed by the Leeds Beckett Disability Advice Team