On the 5 December, Autism-Europe’s Vice-President Pietro Cirrincione spoke at an event in the European Parliament about facilitating the movement of students with disabilities throughout Europe via the Erasmus+ programme. Here he shed light on the particular challenges faced by autistic students.
The event, organised by the Erasmus Student Network and hosted by Italian Member of the European Parliament Damiano Zoffoli, brought together representatives from different Italian and European disability organisations, as well as young people with disabilities talking about their own experience of embarking on university studies in other countries.
Pietro Cirrincione made his presentation on the specific challenges of autistic students. He spoke about the barriers that people on the autism spectrum can face in education settings in general, and of acute difficulties that can come from studying abroad. He also made a case for the peer-mediated interventions in the University setting to help autistic students overcome some of the obstacles they face because of their condition. This could come in the form of a buddying or befriending system set up by the host university.
For autistic student, support might be required to plan and organise not only the studies themselves, but also some of the logistical planning involved in home life and the administration that can come from moving to a new country. It is also important to receive support for social inclusion, especially in a context when one is far from their family and from the support network they might have back home.
Educational institutions welcoming autistic students should have staff with an understanding of autism, willing to offer a flexible approach with regards to time frames that complement the specific needs of the student in question.
Generally speaking, students with disabilities are largely underrepresented when it comes to student exchange programmes like Erasmus+. According to figures provided by the European Commission, from 2012-2013, out of the 268,143 students taking part in the Erasmus+ exchange, only 388 were registered as having the special grant for students with disabilities, only 0.14%.
About the Erasmus+ Programme
Erasmus+ is the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe. Its budget of €14.7 billion will provide opportunities for over 4 million Europeans to study, train, gain experience, and volunteer abroad.