Dropping out and moving on: A qualitative study of autistic people's experiences of university



Cage E & Howes J (2020) Dropping out and moving on: A qualitative study of autistic people's experiences of university. Autism, 24 (7), pp. 1664-1675.

Autistic people are at high risk of dropping out of university, but little research has examined this issue. Fourteen participants participated in semi-structured interviews examining their experiences at university and the reasons they had dropped out. Thematic analysis identified patterns in participants’ responses. Themes were categorised as systemic issues, challenges within university or life after dropping out. Systemic issues centred around accessing diagnosis, autism understanding, mental health and outsider status. Challenges at university included culture shock, becoming disengaged, lack of proactive support and perceived inevitability of dropping out. Finally, life after dropping out was characterised by processing of trauma and shame, and realisation of doing ‘what’s right for you’. Together, these themes suggest that many improvements could be made at universities, such as more proactive support, and creating more accessible environments. Societal-level change is also needed to improve educational opportunities for autistic people.

Higher Education; Non-completion; Dropout; Autistic adults

Autism: Volume 24, Issue 7

FundersUniversity of London
Publication date31/10/2020
Publication date online31/05/2020
Date accepted by journal06/03/2020

People (1)


Dr Eilidh Cage
Dr Eilidh Cage

Lecturer in Psychology, Psychology