Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition which influences the way in which Autistic individuals perceive, experience and process the world. Autistic individuals can have social communication differences and difficulties (particularly with non-Autistic people), sensory differences, focused interests and repetitive behaviours (APA, 2013). Autistic individuals vary considerably with regards to intellectual, verbal or adaptive functioning and may therefore have low, moderate or high support needs. In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 100 people are Autistic (Baird et al., 2006). Many Autistic individuals are now attending university, with almost 13,000 Autistic students disclosing their Autistic status to UK universities in 2018/19 (HESA, 2020). Research indicates that better staff support could be helpful in ensuring Autistic students feel able to complete their studies (Cage et al., 2020; Cage & Howes, 2020). However, it is likely that there are many Autistic students who do not disclose their diagnosis, and many others are not diagnosed until after university. Thus, it is important that teaching and learning approaches take a Universal Design approach (Burgstahler, 2015) – that is, that spaces and information are accessible and usable
for all students, from all diverse backgrounds. The current COVID-19 crisis has also highlighted the need for university staff to adapt their teaching methods, in particular within online environments. It is important that staff feel equipped and able to work with Autistic students on their courses (online or on campus), whether or not these students have disclosed their diagnosis or are diagnosed. To ensure university staff are able to deliver high quality accessible teaching and learning opportunities, further training could be beneficial. The current study specifically aims to deliver and evaluate training for university staff on autism and Universal Design (UD).

Main aims/objectives
This research principally aims to improve university staff’s knowledge and attitudes towards autism and of Universal Design via an online training programme. The training has been developed using participatory methods, with Autistic people involved in all aspects of its development and the research. The training itself has two objectives. The first aim is to train university staff to better understand, teach and support Autistic students. This includes key facts about autism (e.g., how it is diagnosed, characteristics of Autistic college students, and common misconceptions); critiquing of common misconceptions about autism and neurodiversity; and specific strategies that Autistic students and scholars consider effective for supporting many neurodivergent learners based on existing evidence and lived experiences. The second objective is to train staff to understand how they can use Universal Design (UD) to help all students learn. This includes defining UD, identifying key principles of UD, developing UD-aligned strategies to more effectively teach all students and learning how to use online teaching as a powerful UD tool.

The study will involve a pre-test questionnaire, followed by the training, then a post-test questionnaire immediately after completing the training (outlined below). There will also be a brief follow-up assessment one month later (maintenance phase). The time total time commitment for this study including the pre-test, training, post-test, and maintenance questionnaire is 2-3 hours. Each participant will receive $50SUD in their local currency through PayPal. This study has taken a participatory approach, with Autistic students and researchers involved throughout all stages of the research, including the design of the training and the pre- and post-test questionnaires.

Pre-test questionnaire
The pre-test questionnaire will be presented online (using Qualtrics).

Participants additionally will be asked to complete the following measures which are adapted or obtained from existing measures and literature:

1. Social Dominance Orientation. This 8-item questionnaire is included because past research has shown that social dominance orientation tends to relate strongly to prejudicial attitudes, including stigma towards autism (Bäckström & Björklund, 2007; Gillespie-Lynch et al., 2019; 2020).

2. Social distance (stigma) scale. This 8-item questionnaire has been adapted from stigma research which shows that people express stigma by desiring social distance from particular groups. These questions are included as we aim to examine whether the training helps to reduce stigma towards autism. The original measure was developed by Bogardus (1933) and adapted to look at stigma towards Autistic people by Gillespie-Lynch et al. (2015). The measure was adapted over time in collaboration with Autistic students (Gillespie-Lynch et al., 2019; 2020). In the current version we have made further adaptations.

3. Autism knowledge scale. This 29-item questionnaire evaluates participants’ knowledge of autism. These questions are included as we aim to examine whether the training helps to improve knowledge about autism. The questions were originally adapted by Gillespie-Lynch et al. (2015) from the Autism Awareness Survey developed by Stone (1987). They have since been adapted in collaboration with Autistic college students (Gillespie-Lynch et al., 2020; in prep) and added to due to our knowledge of autism continually growing and changing. The most recent adaptation has been developed in collaboration with both Autistic students and Autistic faculty.

4. Inclusive teaching strategies inventory. This 28-item questionnaire evaluates participants’ experience and attitudes towards inclusion in the classroom. These questions are included as we aim to test whether the training about universal design helps to increase positive attitudes toward inclusive practices.

5. Faculty attitudes towards Autistic students. This 6-item questionnaire specifically assesses staff attitudes towards Autistic students (rather than attitudes in general towards autism, as the social distance scale evaluates). These questions are included as we aim to see whether training improves attitudes towards working with Autistic students. This measure is adapted from Sniatecki et al. (2015) who looked at faculty attitudes towards disabilities in general – thus the measure is adapted specifically towards autism.

The training is a course with two modules, delivered online via the survey software ‘Qualtrics’. The training was developed by both Autistic and non-Autistic researchers and students, with some of module 1 (‘autism’) based on previous training developed by Gillespie-Lynch et al. (2015) and adapted in collaboration with Autistic college students. The training includes slides of information about autism (module 1) and universal design (module 2), with participants working through the slides on Qualtrics at their own pace. The training includes text, pictures and videos. All of the videos feature Autistic people talking about their experiences – some of these videos have been specifically created for the training and some are publicly available YouTube videos.

There is also supplementary information which includes additional information, a glossary and references. Participants will be sent a pdf of the training and the supplementary information once they have completed the study so they can refer back to it at a later date within their teaching practices.

Post-test questionnaire

The post-test questionnaire will be taken immediately after participants have completed the training. They will complete all of the same measures as described above for the pre-test, aside from the demographic questions and the social dominance orientation questionnaire. Additionally, there are six qualitative, open questions, where we aim to obtain feedback on the training.

Maintenance follow-up questionnaire

After one month, participants will be asked to complete the same questionnaires again, aside from the demographic questions and including the six different qualitative questions.

Our recruitment target is 90 people currently teaching university-level courses around the world (i.e they must be due to teach a course in the coming academic year).

If you’d like to sign up for this research or if you have any questions, please fill out the contact form here.

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