He is 26 years old, completed his master's degree in Law and Governance, and is currently pursuing his second master's degree in Legal Research at the law faculty of the UG. In addition, he works as a researcher at ProFacto and is involved in politics. It’s also important to mention that he has autism. Joachim Bekkering has known this since he was six years old and has turned his autism into his strength.
April 2 is World Autism Day, a day to raise awareness for autism. Joachim believes that this day is very important. “It would be good if people become more aware of the challenges of people with autism and to question ourselves about what we as a society can do to support people with autism.” There are still many prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about autism. For instance, it is often thought that people with autism are not empathetic, are always introverted, are not intelligent, or are just nerds. Inappropriate comments such as "That one is autistic" or "What an autistic person" or "Don't be so autistic" are often made. Such comments can be hurtful and contribute to negative stereotyping of this group. It is important that we work towards an inclusive society where everyone feels accepted and respected. At the UG we are also working hard to achieve this.
Joachim knows how to turn his challenges into a strength. For example, he creates highly structured abstracts and notes during his studies, all handwritten because this allows him to process the study material better. His ability to make connections in the study material is enhanced by the structure he provides. Another strength caused by his autism is his ability to work very focused on a particular task or project, which helps him achieve his goals.
Of course, there are also challenges: "I have a much greater need for affirmation during my studies than my fellow students without autism. Therefore, it was very nice that during the writing of my thesis I was assigned a supervisor who was aware of this and could deal with it properly." Joachim also had more difficulty making friends during his college years. Whereas most students develop a lot of different relationships during their studies, this is more difficult for Joachim because for him it requires a deep bond of trust.
Together with his study advisor and a student counsellor, Joachim was able to make good arrangements from the beginning to support his studies. He makes use of a number of exam facilities that the UG can offer. For example, he gets extra time for taking exams, because Joachim needs more time to separate the main and side issues and to understand the questions properly. In addition, Joachim is allowed to take his exams individually. This way he experiences the least stimulation from his surroundings.
"In addition, I was allowed to take exams on paper that other students took digitally. Digital exams were not an option for me because there are few possibilities for taking notes, highlighting, crossing out, etc. For me this is essential for providing structure in the exams.”
Joachim emphasizes that many students with autism are not yet well informed about the different exam facilities and how to apply for them. He indicates that more attention should be paid to the findability of the information on the website. At the moment, a communication advisor is working on this.
At the beginning of his studies, Joachim had the support of a study buddy as well. A study buddy is a senior student from the same study who helps a student with autism organize their studies and feel at home within the university. "This has been of great help. Especially the support in separating the study material in main and side issues and finding the lecture halls in the different buildings was very helpful."
"For people with autism, it is nice if buildings are as stimulus-free as possible, so not many different and bright colors and, for example, extra measurements to reduce noise. In addition, wayfinding in and around the buildings is very important." In order to make the law school's new building, the Röling Building, as accessible as possible, a project group with students and staff was set up to contribute ideas. Joachim is part of this group.
An important final message from Joachim: "Don't be ashamed of your autism and engage with the people around you, you don't have to do it alone."
Do you need extra support when studying, just like Joachim? Contact the Student Service Center (SSC). The SSC is the expertise center in student support at the UG including a team of student counsellors, psychologists and trainers who can support and advise students in different areas during their studies. An overview of the various support options at the UG can be found on the Special Needs webpage.
And if you have ideas to make the UG buildings more accessible for everyone, please send a message to the Accessibility Point of Contact. We can use your help!
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