Telling people at university about your autism

Everyone experiences their autism differently and at Durham University we make no assumptions about how your diagnosis impacts on you. You may find that your autism has little impact on day to day life other than putting into practice some learnt strategies to manage certain situations. For others, daily challenges may be experienced.

Whether you tell others about your autism is a personal decision. Telling people about your autism at university is also known as ‘disclosure’ or ‘declaring a disability’. More information about what this means and why it might be important to you is available in this article.


What is meant by the term ‘declaration’?

Although you may not think of your autism as a disability, organisations and workplaces recognise that reasonable adjustments may need to be made. The declaration of your diagnosis formally prompts an organisation, like a university, to make contact with you to explore any additional needs that you may have. The goal of this is to put reasonable adjustments in place that will support you to reach your full potential. 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.

Do I have to declare my autism?

Some students choose not to tell anyone at university about their autism, including staff and support services. This is a personal choice. Some students decide not to tell the university about their diagnosis in the first year but find that issues arise later in their course as commitments intensify. By declaring your autism at the beginning of your course you have the opportunity to speak with a Disability Adviser and agree reasonable adjustments that could be put in place from the start of your course. Reasonable adjustments may include extended library loans, exam concessions, the ability to negotiate deadlines and access to specific study spaces. Reasonable adjustments cannot be able to be put in place without the declaration of your disability.

If I declare, who will find out?

Confidentially is extremely important to us at Durham University. If you declare your autism, a Disability Adviser will discuss with you what, if any, information needs to be shared. It is very useful if a brief outline of your disability is shared with your academic department and college. This information is shared on a ‘need to know’ basis only. For example, each department has a Departmental Disability Representative (DDR) that will hold your information on file and ensure reasonable adjustments are put in place for you for your studies. Likewise, there will be a student support officer within the college who will oversee any additional needs that may need to be met. A Disability Adviser will discuss the sharing of this information with you and this will only be forwarded with your consent. Disability Support will not tell other students about your autism.

How could this affect me?

The Autism&Uni research surveyed of people with experience of attending and/or completing university, over 70% said they never told anyone they were autistic. Some students were not diagnosed until after university. Students who were diagnosed before or during university and declared their autism were more likely to finish their course and get good grades. Of the 70% of students who chose not to declare, those who dropped out told us it was because they realise now they needed support with some aspects of university.

University represents a big transition for many students, and especially individuals with autism. You may find there is a lot to process and manage which may be overwhelming when you are in a new city and new environment. Declaring your autism and getting advice from an early stage may help you adapt and feel in control. The support you receive may just be at the beginning of your course as you get used to university life or you may have more regular contact with support services for the duration of your course.

What to do next?

If you haven’t already done so, think about whether you want to declare your autism

Practical tips

  • Visit our Disability Support website to find out more about the service
  • Think about what could be gained from declaring your autism? Would anything make you feel uncomfortable?
  • If you have received reasonable adjustments at school or college and benefited from these, it may be helpful to discuss your diagnosis with a Disability Adviser within Disability Support
  • Talk to friends and family about this decision- those who know you best could give you some useful advice

About the author

Rebecca Horsfall, Disability Adviser, at Disability Support, Durham University. Content regarding Autism&Uni research adapted from Autism&Uni/Leeds Beckett University.