Friday, 16 September 2016

Aspergers Syndrome: The Open University vs Brick University

This post is dedicated to university. Specifically, The Open University vs Brick Universities - which you already knew because you read the title...

If you didn't already know, which most of you probably didn't, I have Aspergers Syndrome. Which is a high functioning form of autism. The stuff that I'm about to ramble on about is based on how I feel those with Aspergers will benefit/struggle with two different ways of studying degrees. (Keep in mind that this is based on my personal opinions, and some of this may or may not relate to you because everyone is different etc, etc.)

Let's start with The Open University. For those of you that aren't familiar, it's an online-based university that lets you complete degrees (and other qualifications) at home, based around your own schedule. In comparison to brick universities, I think this option of study can be an absolute god-send to some people who feel like they would never be able to accomplish a degree of any kind, like me.

I've always been one of those people that adores studying, and while that may seem strange to some people, it makes me happy. I love to learn. However, I struggle a hell of a lot with social situations and communicating with other people, so I always had it in the back of my head that I wouldn't ever be able to cope with studying at a brick university, therefore I never aimed for it.  So, when I heard about the Open University I was like "YES I CAN ACTUALLY STUDY A DEGREE NOW!"

As soon as I enrolled into my course I was so excited. I couldn't wait to get all of my study materials and start this new adventure. The reason for my excitement was because I was now doing something that I never thought I would, or could, do. However, I was slightly concerned that a lack of social situations would come with this, and make me even more anxious around people because I wasn't getting any 'practice'. I made a lot of plans to stop this from happening. I joined a couple of groups, such as a writing class, that I thought might help with this. It did.

Despite The Open University being home-based, they do have quite a few tutorials, aka classes, throughout each module. While I have only managed to attend one since beginning my degree 2 years ago, I'm aiming to get to more in my next module. I find social interaction to be one of the toughest things that I have to face, but the good thing about these tutorials is that there is only a handful of people that attend.

I spoke with some students at The Open University, specifically those who struggle with a form of Autism.

Rafael, a biology student aged 30, told me about his struggles  previous to studying with the Open University. He states that 'The Open University solved all [autism-based problems] for me'. Due to his disability, he found himself often having 'boom and bust cycles', which can be quite commonly found in people with Aspergers Syndrome. Rafael found that the Open University granted him permission to allow these, as he states 'I CAN have [these] cycles and nobody will be negative about it. It doesn't matter if I can't listen to a lecture video all the way through in one go; humans lecturing 'in the flesh' don't come with a pause button and would get rather cross if you stopped to get a drink or put your slippers on!'
This is something I can completely relate to. Concentration is something that many people with Aspergers Syndrome, etc, will find difficult to deal with. As well as this, those with the condition and studying will often find it hard to manage the workload. The good thing about the Open University is that you are able to start and stop anytime you wish.

Another student with Aspergers Syndrome, who wishes to remain anonymous, talked about her opinion on the benefits and downsides to The Open University. As a lot of people have boasted about The Open University, she states that 'I can study at my own pace, in my own way. I can interact in online or face to face tutorials as much or as little as I want. I feel like I have control over my workload'. On the flip side, this student mentions that 'I am very analytical and often need things as worked examples to understand and exact mistakes spelt out me'. Again, this can be quite difficult for people with Aspergers Syndrome to deal with, as we often need exact details to be given in order for us to understand it thoroughly. This is something that can be much more easily accessed through a brick university. Tutors and support are much more accessible in this form of studying.

The final Open University student that I spoke to is Debbie, a 32 year old who has studied with The Open University for 12 years. Debbie finds that 'the flexibility of the Open University is brilliant'. As well as this she states that 'The student support has been incredible. The structure of the modules and the provision of materials is much better than for a brick university. The limited social interaction of the Open University suits me. It lets me study when and where suits me.' Debbie also mentions how the Open University doesn't challenge her socially.
I personally think that poor opportunities to socialise are the only thing that may affect individuals with Aspergers Syndrome, especially as they would benefit from opportunities like that.

As I am a student with The Open University, I talked mostly to other students in my position. I did, however, manage to talk with Lucy, a student at a brick university, who also has Aspergers Syndrome. Lucy states that the brick university that she attends has a group specifically for students with Aspergers Syndrome that runs once a month. As well as this, DSA (Disability Student Allowance) has also helped her out a lot, as you can get support from a non-medical helper. Despite these benefits, Lucy states that 'the downsides are definitely the social aspects - making new friends was difficult.' As well as this, she finds that asking for help can often cause difficulties, especially when she is unsure what to do.
I can definitely agree that asking for help is not my area of expertise, and I'm sure we are not the only people to think so.

Overall, I think it's clear to see that The Open University has many means of support that will suit individuals with Aspergers Syndrome that want to study, but find the thought of a brick university too overwhelming. Despite this, there are some good support systems in place for those that like the idea of pushing themselves a bit harder and getting into a brick university.

If you have Aspergers Syndrome, let me know in the comments what way you are going/went about studying at university! And if you don't have Aspergers Syndrome, you can still take it away in the comments, get involved in the discussion :)

See you soon,
Love, Laura xx

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