You start with the leaf, the branch, the tree and then the forest. Ordinary people see the forest first.


Did you know this?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD or simply autism) affects around 0.7% of the population. ASD has its onset in childhood and occurs three to four times as often in men as in women. The symptoms occur in early childhood, although they may not become manifest until later in life. Spectrum refers to the wide variation in manifestation. Students with ASD often have additional emotional problems. Students find it difficult to disclose their diagnosis and to take the first step towards seeking (professional) help.

Everyone is different

People with autism are very different from one another. Spectrum refers to the wide variation in manifestation. For example, some make friends easily but have difficulty with change. For others, it can be the opposit.

The symptoms improve with increasing age. Students with ASD often still experience difficulties with:

  • Social interactions and responding to social cues. There is a clear need for social contacts, but making and maintaining spontaneous friendships is often not easy.
  • Noticing and understanding nonverbal cues in communication. Interpreting body language, intonation, facial expressions and gestures in communication and using nonverbal cues is often difficult.
  • New situations and unexpected changes. Assessing quickly and intuitively how to behave in new situations is hard. Unexpected changes also cause stress and anxiety. Often there is a very conscious weighing up and reasoning about how to present oneself in new situations and this often requires a lot of energy. Structure and routines bring calm.
  • Right amount of focus and intensity on interests. Most people with ASD have specific interests, which are especially characterised by abnormal focus and high intensity.
  • Processing sensory stimuli. An over- or under-sensitivity to certain stimuli such as sounds, light, smells, tastes, or touch divert attention and can lead to confusion, anxiety and fatigue.

In their focus to build a new social identity, students often decide not to disclose their diagnosis and they find it difficult to take the first step towards seeking (professional) help.

The difficulties have an impact on students' well-being. ASD is often accompanied by additional mental disorders. In (young) adults with ASD, anxiety disorders, depression and ADHD are common.

Atypical global and local information processing

The brains of people with autism are organised differently. These include:

  • Weak global information processing: less cohesion in the observed information, difficulties in distinguishing between main and minor issues, and difficulties in applying what has been learned in other contexts (transfer). Also communicative difficulties, such as not always concisely and coherently communicating the message and literally interpreting information, can be associated with this weak global processing.
  • Strong local information processing: specific qualities such as a strong detail orientation and a strong focus on delving into specific content. Exceptional powers of observation, an analytical thinking style, and a strong memory for unconnected facts and details are also associated with this local information processing.

It is suspected that the interaction between local and global processing in particular is atypical and is more a default preference than a deficit. Provided the necessary efforts and adjustments are made, people with autism spectrum disorder do achieve global information processing. It just happens less spontaneously and requires more energy.

I decided then that I was going to stop pretending. It was such a burden off my shoulders. You can stop being who you have to be, and be who you are.


Talk about it

Do you have concerns and are experiencing specific challenges? Remember, you are not alone. Talk to someone close to you who you trust and feel comfortable with. It can be a great relief and helps you to put things in order. You can also take the step to help together..

If you don't feel comfortable telling someone close to you, try talking about it with someone who is familiar with similar stories. This could be your GP or someone from your college or university.

You can also anonymously contact Awel (102 or via or Tele-Onthaal (106 or via, and the Suicide Line (1813 or Zelfmoord1813) for questions regarding suicidal thoughts.

Get to work

The online programme Roadmap provides easy access to tips & tricks on topics related to living and learning as a student with autism.

Seek help

There are many psychosocial interventions aimed at improving the well-being of the person with autism. Central to these interventions, is gaining more insight into autism (psycho-education) and finding solutions for experienced challenges. Treatments also often focus on related problems such as anxiety and stress symptoms.

As a student with autism, you can also get educational and examination adjustments and guidance at your college or university. Schedule an individual consultation with the care coordinator concerning specific questions and education and examination adjustments. Read more about this topic on the infopage disabilities. For study problems and emotional issues, you can also get support from a student advisor and/or psychologist.

Worried about a friend

Have you noticed that a friend is having difficulties? Talk about it and share your concerns. Try to be understanding and to listen without passing judgement.

Keen to learn, read or hear more about this topic?



  • Roadmap is an interactive and customisable online counselling tool that supports students with ASD in higher education.
  • Via Autisme Chat students can discuss their concerns and questions with professional coaches from the home support services in a very accessible way. Close friends and relatives of these students can also chat with these professionals.

TED Talks and video’s



  • Van Hees, V., & Roeyers, H. (2014). Thrilled to know: studying with autism. Gent: Academia (Dutch)