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My place is here

I am a citizen with rights, says Rafael (fictitious name). My place is here, he continues. I did my part to be present here as a candidate for Higher Education, he adds.

I don't agree with having to tell my teachers or colleagues that I am autistic, says Lurdes (fictitious name). And I am not even talking about the data protection regulation, she mentions. I'm talking about my rights as a citizen, she continues. And besides, I don't think that some of my teachers and colleagues have the capacity to deal with this information, she says.

I have the same right as all my colleagues to be here studying in this Higher Education Institution, says Carlos (not his real name). And not to have to feel that I have to be asking teachers to behave in a way that suits my learning needs, he continues. Or that my colleagues don't make an effort to understand me, he concludes.

It seems ridiculous to me that there are people who still question the presence of disabled people in Higher Education, says Clara (not her real name). Regardless of their characteristics they are full citizens, she mentions. And if there are still many examples that contradict this reality, they should be denounced, she comments. If anyone has doubts, they should seek clarification on Human Rights, he says.

If my colleagues think I'm weird, they should look at many of their behaviours, Júlia (fictitious name) says. What do they complain about? she asks. About me being a rigorous person in the way I work? she continues. That I'm ambitious and like to learn ? They also want the same thing, but in a different way. Why do they think my way is the only strange way? she concludes.

Why doesn't the University adapt? asks Francisco (not his real name). The Universal Learning Design doesn't just exist from now on? he says. Why hasn't the University after all these years with all these different students learned to adapt? After all, whose rigidity is it? concludes.

Why can't they understand that I need to wear noise-cancelling headphones to be able to go to class? questions Andreia (fictitious name). When there is noise, don't people complain? And don't they get annoyed? she continues. And don't they try to tell them to make less noise? So, I don't understand what is such a complex issue with my sensoryity? It's because they don't understand it? But they don't have to understand it - they have to respect it, he concludes.

Today I was at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Alameda to talk about autism and when autistic people come to university. A few weeks ago I was at the Instituto Superior Técnico in TagusPark talking about the same subject. And I have already been at ISCTE-IUL and at the University of Lisbon or at Lusíada in Porto, also with the same subject. And regardless of the different institutions, the issues are very similar.

Teachers feel they need to know more. More about autism and more about other conditions. More on how to act in certain situations. Especially those in which they feel there is more fragility. Be it this fragility of the students but also their own. They also feel the need to adapt some methodologies in class and in the relationship with these and other students.

The technicians at the University also feel the need to know more and better about autism. More specifically, to know what represents the variability of expression of autism and not only what is stated in the diagnostic manuals.

Parents feel they need to know more and better on how to continue this path of their children. But in a way that is adapted and respectful of their age. Even if they feel they can go to the University and tell the academics how they can better adapt the answers to their children's needs.

Autistic students feel the need to be treated as such. And they feel an equal need to be involved in decision-making about the measures to be proposed for themselves and for autistic people.

Today, when I saw a room with university teachers, technicians, autistic students and parents, I regained my confidence and will to continue this path.

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