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Good Maths courses and careers for students with the Autistic Spectrum Disorder?

(55 Posts)
HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 15:56:53

DS finished year 12 being quietly confident, expecting his AS results for Math, Further Maths, Physics and German AS. The plan is to drop German and continue with the STEM subjects to A2. Having attended a residential extension Maths course and read a few books, DS is now very enthusiastic about a Maths degree, although he considered Engineering or Computing in the past and learned to code. We are booking open days visits for September, but not quite sure what to look for and what criteria to set.

Naturally, we looked at the league tables. I‘ve read through a number of threads on the subject of choosing universities and degree courses. However the more I read, the more I became uncertain and confused in terms of how all this wisdom would apply to autistic DS. The dynamics and factors that work for “normal” people in a certain way might work very differently for student on the spectrum.

For example I came across a comment that due to their limited “worldliness” and social interactions skills, some students with solid Maths degrees remain unemployable sad

Another comment that worries me was that 40% of Maths graduates at good universities get 2:2 degrees, which as I understand are not degrees at all, as no decent employer would look at them, so what’s the point?

Self insight is really not DS’s strength so he tends just to repeat what his teachers are saying, which is nothing helpful so far. I haven’t been to a university in this country and have absolutely no idea how it all works, so I am seriously worried to not do more harm than good. So I would really appreciate some pointers, some empirical evidence or observations that could provide some reality check/factual point of reference for our search.

DS has a statement with full time 1:1 support, although it became very light touch and remote in 6 Form, to encourage his independence. He has a language disorder that makes essays very difficult. He had teething problems at the beginning of 6 Form and generally doesn’t adjust to change and new environment very easily. He seems to enjoy Decisions and Algebra modules most (the latter described by the teacher as Pure Maths). Due to his ASD, DS struggles socially and is not very “worldly” and streetwise for employment.

Here is what we established so far:

1 The main overriding concern is the future employment, graduating successfully with a job to go to. The employment should come on the back of the prestige and set up at the university – a strong industry connection is key. In which universities and courses would DS have greatest chances of getting the internships and job offers, in spite of his ASD?

2. The course structure and the assessment methods should be workable for DS, although I have limited idea what this means. I know that small groups, some 1:1 supervision (the more the better), some flexibility, modular assessments (i.e. not zero assessment for 9 months and then one final exam on all of the years material…) will be best. Telling DS “Here is the library, it is all up to you now, see you in 9 months…” is definitely a no-no. What course structure and assessment should we be looking for? I realise that Oxbridge is most suited if one can get into, but what if else?

3. Preferably small campus rather than a big city. As little social pressures and drinking as possible. This means possibility to opt in and out of social life at his own pace, without peer pressure penalising his studies and wellbeing. Preferably a single campus accommodation with ensuite, avoiding shared apartments as much as possible. Strong safeguards against bullying and abuse. Alternatively commute from zone 9 to London?

4. Structured possibilities to expand the horizon and learn about the industry and the real world via organised opportunities to mix with diverse students in diverse range of subjects (i.e. not via personal network) and to attend lectures/presentations from and visits to interesting companies, organised by the university.

5. Having various career options open. Some flexibility, possibility to readjust career aims depending on how it goes with the degree, to be balanced against the focus on being immediately employable. Being redirected to Engineering or Computing might be better than getting an unemployable 2:2 degree. Do Maths graduates with ASD get into the City or is Computing industry unavoidable?

What else should we consider and which weight to give to these factors?
What could be the best courses and pathways to employment for DS?
Many thanks.

spinoa Wed 29-Jul-15 17:14:34

I think you are worrying too much about employment prospects. Any of the top 20 or universities for maths have extremely good employment prospects for their students. Maths is considered a very hard subject and a graduate with a (mid to high) 2:2 in maths from a RG type university is very definitely employable.

The comments from posters that maths graduates are relatively unemployable are a bit distorted, in that posters are mostly referring to specific types of city careers, for which entry is extremely competitive. The overall rates of employment from maths degrees (at top 20 universities) are extremely good. Not everyone has the skill set required or even wants to earn six figure salaries in financial jobs in the city. That doesn't mean to say that maths grads don't find jobs. Most of them don't work in computing: they work in a wide variety of fields. There are plenty of good jobs out there for people who don't have the connections to get fantastic internships. Go to open days and ask around: maths admissions tutors will be happy to talk about the diverse careers their graduates go into.

BTW the 40% get 2:2 or below in Maths at Cambridge comment came from me. The statistics are not necessarily quite as high as 40% at other RG universities but I also said in the same threads that I never see students who work getting less than a mid to high 2:2.

You will not find 1:1 tuition outside Oxbridge - nobody else can afford it. For maths it is somewhat questionable whether the 1:1 or 1:2 tuition in any case makes a substantial difference: students have to learn, study, practise for many hour by themselves and a few 1:2 supervisions won't get around this. For an ASD student, the main challenge is usually to learn to ask questions of their tutor and this often isn't any easier in 1:2 than in a slightly larger tutorial group. Sometimes it can be easier in the latter as others ask the questions for you! All maths courses offer small group tutorials on top of lecture courses; there isn't one place which is better than the others for this.

All universities are used to dealing with ASD students. Some are very good at marketing what they do for ASD students (Bath) but nowadays student services are good at most universities. A significant fraction of maths students are ASD or have ASD tendencies. As a result your DS is highly likely to find peers wherever he goes, both amongst the students and the staff.

My professional opinion is that they isn't that much to choose between the top 20 or so universities for maths for most of your points. Obviously Oxbridge opens some doors that a lower ranging RG university doesn't but there isn't really that much difference between your point 4 amongst the top universities. (Everyone copies each other and most of the big employers do milk rounds outside London and SE.)

Your point 3 is really quite subjective. I would tend to suggest Warwick, Bath, Nottingham, Southampton, ... for campus based universities in smaller cities outside London. Commuting into London and living at home often makes new friendships harder; every student I have known who lived at home regretted it. But if this is an option then Imperial, KCL and UCL are all great for maths.

For point 5 one suggestion might be to look at options such as Maths with Economics or MORSE. These options give an exit route if pure maths turns out to be too hard, and such degrees are well respected for financial jobs.

But overall I would suggest visiting campuses and finding a place that he likes, with good accommodation etc. The actual courses, tuition, help to find internships, careers advice, will be relatively similar with pluses and minuses at different places mostly cancelling out. Bear in mind that Oxbridge can be very stressful (both the admissions procedure and the pressure of very short terms) so this should be taken into account when deciding whether to apply there.

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 20:51:37

Thank you ,*Senoa*, for your thoughtful comments. They are very much appreciated.

It is true that I am worried, as the statistics from NAS show that only 15% of adults on the spectrum are in employment, mostly due to factors outside of their control. However, hopefully, graduates could have more favourable statistics.

I was really surprised with the statistic about 2:2 degrees. I am glad that part of them are employable. Do you have any idea what sort of jobs / employers do the holders of 2:2 degrees go to?

I read a comment that some graduates generally (not necessarily Maths, or 2:2) get “graduate” jobs and roughly half or 60% “non graduate” jobs… This is also evident in the expectation that many graduates will not be required to repay student’s loan due to low earnings. Is there any correlation to subjects and the grades (i.e. 2:2) ?

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 20:54:24

Spinoa, sorry on mobile.

twentyten Wed 29-Jul-15 22:16:59

Hi. I recall seeing recent articles where BT specifically seek graduates on the autistic spectrum as do gchq smile

Go to a few open days- you will see kindred spirits amongst other applicants and amongst the lecturers!!!( based on an extensive open day tour last summer!grin)

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 22:34:07

Thanks, smile

Any other thoughts of the pockets of graduate employment for Aspies?

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 22:34:38

Any experiences of Aspies coping with degree programmes?

VelmaD Wed 29-Jul-15 22:40:08

it might well be that he doesnt go into employment straight from uni. he could (even with a 2:2 which very much is still a degree) go on to do a masters, and then further research. he could look at statistics or analysis, as an employment field.

his interest is maths, but has he mentioned any career ideas himself?

Jellified Wed 29-Jul-15 23:24:48

Interesting thread. Ds is on the autistic spectrum and if everything goes to plan will be off to uni in the autumn. Though studying English not maths. His firm choice have been in touch inviting him to visit to meet lecturers and support staff as well as spend some time looking around, viewing his actual accommodation etc. before the start of term.
We and he have been really impressed and feel so much more confident that uni will be a positive experience for him.
Happy to post here on how it all pans out.

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 23:37:00

Thanks Jellified, this is very interesting.

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 23:41:46

Velma, are you speaking from experience that students with ASD tend not to find jobs and are channelled to Masters and academia? I heard that at several occasions at the school career fairs...

Is the question then which Maths areas/disciplines, and universities tend to attract PhD funding from industry?

Are there degree areas where Aspies graduate with a job to go to?

Mumoftwoyoungkids Wed 29-Jul-15 23:42:17

From what I remember of Cambridge maths I would say that a reasonable proportion of the students are on the spectrum plus some of the lecturers. People doing maths at Cambridge are different to the average almost by definition.

The College set up is very good for the less "worldly" kids I'd say.

However, you should only do Cambridge maths if you really really really really love maths. Otherwise it is absolute hell on earth.

And remember that the place will be jam packed full of neurotic over achievers and so can resemble a pressure cooker.

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 23:56:24

What about those courses with a year in industry? Are they as prestigious and what are the realistic chances of getting a good placement?

HisMum4 Wed 29-Jul-15 23:59:30

Mumof, is it a macho culture, are there girls?

thecatfromjapan Thu 30-Jul-15 00:13:38

I've pm-ed you.

VelmaD Thu 30-Jul-15 00:14:12

Has he had any employment ideas himself?

The problem is with ASD graduates is diagnosis is still fairly new. There whole generations out there (including myself at 30 something) where we were just viewed as different and not diagnosed. The spectrum is so wide as well, that it would be difficult to get full statistics on aspie graduate career paths.

I was not statemented, but fully believe I am autistic. (My son is ASD and I have had many professionals in contact with him mention the strong possibility from my own traits and history. I have enquired about later diagnosis but yet to get anywhere) however I flourished in both private and public sector in career - I did project management and then data analysis. I'm now halfway through a maths degree. I love maths, I love numbers. I love patterns. I see patterns everywhere. I was (still am) a bloody good data analyst, was even headhunted at one point prechildren.

However it took me time to find my path. You need ideas from him as to what careers he wants.

Ds1 is very maths minded. He wants to do some form of engineering though, he doesn't see patterns like I do, he practically builds things. I will have to consider universities like you - but tbh, I think they would be close by ones he could commute from home for.

A maths degree, even as a 2.2 still holds a lot of weight. Yes, a lot of what could be seen as undiagnosed (and diagnosed) ASD do go on to masters and PhDs, partly because of their intelligence and maybe partly due to the structure of further education and the still lack of understanding in somework places.

What does your ds say? Does he want to live away from home or commute to a uni? Does he want to do mathematics, or maths with another subject such as computing or business?

Kampeki Thu 30-Jul-15 00:25:13

Most places that offer a year in industry will provide advice and support on how to get a placement, but it's still down to the student to get the job - it isn't handed to them on a plate.

I would steer clear of engineering if he struggles with writing.

HisMum4 Thu 30-Jul-15 01:52:53

I would steer clear of engineering if he struggles with writing.

This is a revelation to me. I wasn't aware that an Engineering degree would involve writing. How, where does the writing come in?
Kampeki, could you expand?

spinoa Thu 30-Jul-15 07:52:54

Velma, are you speaking from experience that students with ASD tend not to find jobs and are channelled to Masters and academia? I heard that at several occasions at the school career fairs...

Beware that academia is very very competitive - it's very hard to obtain grants and jobs these days. Somebody with poor communication skills won't be able to write good papers, good research grant applications, convince people to hire them for lecturer positions etc etc. While historically academia was able to tolerate ASD disabilities provided the academic was strong in other ways, this is emphatically not the case any more.

I think it is still true that some students with ASD tendencies try to stay on postgraduate work - but competition for the best PhD positions is high, and students with poor writing and communication skills won't get them. Studying for a PhD with very little chance of continuing in academia after the PhD is not really to be recommended; finance and industry do hire maths PhDs, but not those who can't cope with high stress environments, can't communicate well and lead teams etc etc.

Note that the majority of maths PhD funding is not from industry and nor should it be - if the research is so applied, then it should be funded and carried out in house by industry. The top 20-30 universities have more PhD funding from research councils (these days it is competitive and based on research quality) and topics for maths PhDs vary enormously, from pure maths to applied, statistics, mathematical physics, mathematical biology, operational research.

Cambridge has only around 25% females at maths undergraduate and less at graduate level. At lower ranking RG universities the ratio tends to be more even - the average is around 40% females - but the ratio decreases again if one looks at MMath degrees as opposed to vocational financial degrees such as maths with actuarial, maths with statistics, maths with finance.

Goldmandra Thu 30-Jul-15 08:04:28

We're in the process of getting DD1 set up at university on a science based course.

She has had an assessment for Disabled Student Allowance which should include a subsidy for the cost difference between a standard and and en suite room. We've decided that she won't cope with sharing a kitchen at all so requested a small studio flat. We've also asked that she is placed amongst 2nd and 3rd years rather than her peers in the hope of her being disturbed by less partying.

She will receive several hours a week personal and academic one to one support and a named student well being supporter who can help with troubleshooting. There's also counselling and mental health support on a drop in or booked in advance basis.

She can also sign a permission slip enabling the staff to speak to me and copy me into emails.

That's the theory anyway, although I have been informed that this support is far more likely to be effective and reliable than her support in school because the ethos is different in universities.

chemenger Thu 30-Jul-15 13:14:40

Engineering degrees involve a good deal of writing; reports of various types (labs, research projects, design projects), also in exams there are often essay type questions testing understanding. We also (I am an engineering academic) put a strong emphasis on working in groups and oral presentation, reflecting the transferable skills our graduates will need. Communication skills are high up the list of things employers and our professional body are looking for. The image of the engineer as solitary geek is not a realistic one.

HisMum4 Thu 30-Jul-15 14:42:00

Thanks chemenger that's good to know. Although, there was no suggestion of engineers being solitary geeks.

Just to add some perspective, having discussed ASD with a number of engineers from illustrious UK manufacturing companies, the sense they conveyed to DS and I was that they are full of Aspies and SN people, it is almost expected, and they do work effectively together because the engineering process and communication is logical, process driven, structured along the lines that make sense to Aspies, so they function well in it. There are also niche areas in engineering, so they say, where Aspies thrive.

twentyten Thu 30-Jul-15 15:47:41

Hi. I work with a lost of engineering companies who are full of aspies where their eccentricities are accepted and valued. The need to communicate ideas etc is important and work with others- but they are cherished for their talents.

HisMum4 Thu 30-Jul-15 17:06:56

At a trade show, DS and I met a man working for a leading aerospace organisation. DS asked about skills, qualities and careers... The man said that he was unusual in that at school he was good at all subjects including STEM and got good exam results from a public school, was fascinated with space and astronomy (if I am not mistaken), went to Oxford and got an Astrophysics (or Astronomy) degree, was good at writing reports an research proposals, speaking and all that, so he applied successfully for a PhD... and then stalled. He could not generate the ideas and any new knowledge, he reflected candidly, because his skill and talent were essentially in communication and not STEM, writing was what he enjoyed most and because he was generally bright and at a good school, he could do Physics too up to a point. These were his words. As a consequence he was at the show in a capacity of a Marketing man, who wrote the shiny leaflets and the blog on the company's website, which is a very important role to ignite passion for space exploration in the younger generation.

This new trend of weeding Aspies from STEM careers because of their communication in favour of marketing types might have a negative consequence for innovation, as innovation and people influencing are essentially two different competencies and value systems, that cannot be both dominant in one individual.

Preminstreltension Thu 30-Jul-15 17:16:03

That man might have been me HisMum. Except that I'm not a man and don't have a degree in astrophysics grin. But I really recognise his point. I nearly did a maths degree and thankfully didn't - because I am good enough at it to follow it up to a point but not to take it further or generate anything iyswim.

I now work in a highly technical field and follow it enough to relay it to lay people in normal language. I work with lots of people who have strong ASD traits. My industry (finance) definitely needs them.

And a 2.2 in maths would not be any bar to employment. In fact I can think of two people here right now in my office who have a 2.2 in maths.

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