Pictured at the launch of quiet spaces for students with autism at TUS Athlone were: (Back row) Lisa Hanlon, Disability Officer, TUS; Natalia Miecznik, SU EDI Officer; Senator Micheál Carrigy, Chair, Oireachtas Committee on Autism; Frances O'Connell, Vice President, Student Education and Experience; Sarah La Cumbre, Manager, Student Resource Centre. (Front row) Anoushka Davies, 1st-Year Higher Certificate in Science. Photo: Nathan Cafolla.

Quiet spaces for students with autism launched at TUS Athlone campus

Quiet spaces designed to reduce the sensory load on autistic students on campus were unveiled by Senator Micheál Carrigy, chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Autism, at the TUS Athlone campus on Friday last.

Located in the main campus library, students’ union hub, and engineering building, the quiet spaces are fitted out with specialist furniture which promotes a sense of calm, reducing anxiety and stress.

Unveiling the quiet spaces, Senator Carrigy said inclusivity in higher education was "key" and he emphasised the importance of having supports in place to enable autistic students to "maximise their ability and get that qualification".

"Knowing that TUS has these quiet spaces and supports in place for autistic students, it means a lot," he said, "particularly for parents to know that when their child goes to college, they will get that wraparound service."

He continued, "As a father of a son with autism, I'm looking into the future, and I want to see him progress as much as he can within education, and to have a facility like this quite close to home, it is fantastic."

According to Lisa Hanlon, disability officer at TUS, it is extremely important that autistic students have a place where they can go to get a break if they feel overwhelmed or stressed.

"A lot of students with autism 'mask', which means they try their best all of the time to fit in with the neurotypical environment, which can be exhausting for them," she said.

"Autistic people's brains process their surroundings differently from their non-autistic peers, often making them more sensitive to their sensory surroundings," she explained.

"Class can be loud and busy; there can be a lot going on and a lot of people moving about on campus at any given time. These quiet spaces are purposely located in low traffic areas, where autistic students can escape to, sit down and recharge until they are ready to re-join their peers."

TUS's VP for Student Education and Experience, Frances O'Connell added, "Nationally, we’re seeing year-on–year increases in the numbers of students with autism.

"It is fantastic to see those students entering third level and we wanted to make adaptions to ensure TUS is welcoming to these students, so we created these quiet spaces."

"Our goal is to broaden participation in higher education and to do that we need to make sure it is accessible to all."

Earlier this year, TUS launched a special 'Autism&Uni' toolkit with the aim of helping autistic students navigate the transition to third level.

The toolkit, available online, contains guidance, information, and strategies to help autistic students in overcoming commonly faced challenges.

A video about the launch of the quiet spaces on campus at TUS can be viewed here: