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In this weeks blog we hear from Danika Findley, who is the Lead Autism Specialist Mentor at De Montfort University. Dani talks to us about her work at the University and how the Autism Team supports autistic students at the University to socialise and generate friendships. Autism East Midlands have been working in partnership with De Montfort University to provide autism awareness training and are currently supporting students with mentors via the Disabled Students Allowance, which you can learn more about here.

Every September, DMU’s Autism Team welcomes up to 30 autistic students onto campus for a four day residential event called New to DMU. We arrange it for this time of the year because campus is quieter. This year was New to DMU’s 4th year, and every year it only gets bigger and better.

This year, I had the pleasure in organising and running the event in my capacity at Lead Specialist Autism Mentor. The preparation started all the way back in January of this year starting with booking accommodation, car parking and making a very long and detailed to do list.

Tuesday 3rd September arrived and we welcomed 30 autistic students to the event with open arms and biscuits, we had one surprise student who we didn’t expect and a New to DMU first, a dog! I took great pleasure in meeting this dog and he was the star of the first day.

The first part of the day, parents and carers are welcomed to the event, and take part in their own activities away from their young people. We hope that during these activities, parents and carers will leave a little less worried about their young people; as for most these students it will be the first time they stay away from home. After lunch on the first day, parents and carers depart and we take the students over to halls of residence where they have their own en-suite room and get to experience living in our ‘quiet halls’.

Students experience a mixture of activities during their time at New to DMU, both academic and social activities.

The social activities include cooking their own meal, laser tag, swimming, a scavenger hunt and many more!

The academic activities include a lecture of universal design for learning, assistive technology training, a library tour, a healthy working workshop and many more!

Another great thing about New to DMU is that we have student ambassadors helping us – these are current autistic students who have attended New to DMU themselves. The student ambassador are so helpful as they facilitate the social part of the event, especially in the evenings when there isn’t an activity scheduled

New to DMU is a busy, fun and tiring event for both myself, other staff helping and the students themselves. The best thing about the event for me is that the majority of students will arrive on the first day very nervous, scared to talk to anyone other than their parent or carer. However, come the final day, the students are talking, swapping mobile numbers to keep in touch with each other and most of the time ignoring their parent or carer who has come to pick them up. I really enjoy seeing that they students have flourish in such a short time during this event, they feel more comfortable and confident with their peers and the university environment. The parents and carers can also see this and it’s great to get feedback from them too about how they have found the whole experience and the change they see in their young person.

Some of the feedback we received from this year’s New to DMU includes:

‘I enjoyed every second of it; I have learnt a lot about university life and how much help I can get’

‘It was a lot of fun, everyone was friendly and helpful. Highly recommend going to New to DMU’

Since New to DMU, we have welcomed all of these 30 students who attended and more onto campus, they are now into their 7th week of teaching and I’m still getting students saying how helpful New to DMU is for them, that it helped them prepare for what university is like.

I hope that next years will be just as good, if not better and hopefully with another dog!

If you want to know more about what we do as the Autism Team, please see our webpage: https://www.dmu.ac.uk/current-students/student-support/wellbeing-disability/disability-advice-support/autism-support.aspx