A needs assessment is an assessment that determines the type of accommodations or academic supports that a student might need when they’re at University, Technological University, Institute of Technology or College. This is based on the student providing a document showing evidence of their disabilities, like a Psychological Report, the degree to which their disabilities, conditions or differences might have on their academic studies and their particular requirements for their course. The Needs Assessment process can also help to establish whether you might be eligible to access accommodations for your support needs through an outside funding channel like the HEA ESF Fund for Students with Disabilities.
The Disability Support Officer/Adviser will sit down with you to identify and show specific academic supports that will meet your needs when you’re at University or College. They will use the information you provide to draw up a Learning Education Needs Summary Report (LENS) which makes recommendations as to which Reasonable Accommodations that you might be entitled to that specifically addresses your support needs at University, Technological University, Institute of Technology or College. With your permission, the LENS Report is shared with your lecturers to apply these supports. It may also be shared with any relevant Departments responsible for applying Reasonable Accommodations to make sure that your supports are in place, with your consent, although this will be restricted to the information that is relevant to accommodating your access needs.
The LENS Report states what kind of disability, condition or difference a student might have, how it impacts their studies and identifies what kind of academic supports the student might be entitled to. The Disability Support Service might also decide to recommend other supports that might be useful even if you didn’t specifically request them, like an increased book allowance or extra time to borrow a book at the Library, accommodations for exams and assessments like extra time or access to a computer, or assistive technology.
To draw up your LENS Report, the Disability Support Officer/Adviser might ask you about:
- How do you believe that your education has impacted you?
- Whether you might have any additional medical requirements or support needs?
- What kinds of supports or accommodations, if any, did you receive when you were at secondary school?
- What challenges do you believe you might face at University or College right now, and what challenges do you think you will face in future?
- Do you have any requirements to use Assistive Technology or software? If so, what kinds of technology supports have you used?
A Needs Assessment will be different for every University, Technological University, Institute of Technology or College, but will typically last between 1 and 2 hours and will feel like a casual conversation where your Disability Support Officer has specific questions that they might need to ask, like the questions you’ve seen earlier, or throughout this article, rather than a formal process.
The Needs Assessment is also a chance for you to talk or communicate with your Disability Support Officer about:
- What were the aspects you liked and disliked about studying at school before going to College?
- What were the benefits and disadvantages around the type of supports you availed of at school in the past?
- If you have any doubts or worries about the experience of going to College or University?
- What do you think you might need to be successful at University or College?
You may also need to find out more about the kinds of supports that are available to you and if there are any particular supports that might be helpful for you – as these supports are available to make sure receive the same access to University, Technological University, Institute of Technology or College as everyone else, you can avail of more supports than you think. There is a much greater level of disability support at University or College when compared to secondary school, and there’s a wide variety of options available that can work for you.
Some things that might be useful to think about when you’re going through a Needs Assessment:
- How do you feel about writing down your own notes in lectures, and is this something that you can do yourself, or would you prefer some support with it? Bear in mind that it’s impossible to write down everything said at a lecture and that it can sometimes be challenging to try to figure out which words will be important for your studies.
- Do you think that having permission to record lectures or having access to the lecturer’s notes will help you with your studies?
- How do you make and structure your notes when you’re studying? Do you have a system in place where you can understand and easily access your notes or would you need some support with this?
- Do you find going to new places straightforward or do you have issues processing a new sensory environment? Would it be helpful to have someone you trust to help you to navigate any new buildings and to help you to get used to the environment of the lecture theatre? Would having a Personal Assistant be helpful with this?
- What aspects of the course are you particularly interested in or do you find the most exciting? Would you like to know more about what support might be available to you when you do activities like going on field trips, doing work placements or studying abroad?
- What do you think about group projects? Do you think that you can work on a project as part of a team or would you like to work on your own part of the project? Do you think you can get along with other people or would you find working with others stressful or overwhelming?
- How would you manage any free time that you might have? Do you use this time to get some study done, or do you use it to take a break from the stress of college life?
- Can you manage to go to classes and appointments on time by yourself? If not, would supports that help remind you to go to classes and appointments be helpful?
- Did you have any access to supports like Social Stories, visual reminders or Schedules at school?
- Do you like being in the calmness of quiet environments or buildings, or do you prefer the hustle and bustle of being in busier environments?
- Do you find it easy or difficult to organise your ideas in writing? Would having visual reminders be helpful?
- How do you find academic writing? Do you find the writing in an academic style straightforward or do you have any difficulty with this? Do you have any issues with grammar, syntax or punctuation?
- Do you want somebody to talk to about being autistic who understands what you might experience being autistic at University?
- Do you have any other differences that might be co-occurring to autism (ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, epilepsy), or any other disabilities, conditions or differences that might have an impact on your studies?
- Do you need to have supports for printing out materials for your studies?
- What supports did you access at primary school or secondary school? What supports did you find useful that you would like to access at University or College?
- Do you feel comfortable disclosing your autism diagnosis to other people and discussing how it has an impact on your life? This might help lecturers, tutors and other students to gain an understanding about you, what your personal qualities are and your support needs?