Mrs Norlina Sexton

Research project: Empowering University Students with Autism: Investigating the gap in knowledge about the cognitive, emotional, and sensory mechanisms of change that might facilitate the transition to university and reduce the risks posed on students' mental health.

Abstract

Transitions are known to be especially difficult for students with autism due to core autistic traits associated with underlying difficulties with Theory of Mind, Executive Function, and Central Coherence. Some of the challenges faced with transitioning to university include the sudden increase in independence, higher social and academic demands, having to manage without family support, difficulties with navigating daily university life, and emerging adulthood. Extensive data shows increased risk of reexperiencing traumatic life events, such as peer bullying, victimisation, cumulative traumatic experiences, discrimination, and stigma. There is ample evidence suggesting greater rates of dropping out, exacerbation of mental health difficulties, self-harm, suicidality, poorer long-term outcomes, and snowball risk of complex PTSD. With the increasing number of students transitioning into university, it is crucial that adequate access and appropriate programmes are tailored around their needs commencing before Freshers' week and running into the first academic semester. A neglected aspect of previous research is the use of contextual and repertoire building psychotherapies to address the increased risk of reexperiencing traumatic life events and stigma. In collaboration with autistic voices and Autistica Insight Group, my PhD research investigates the gap in knowledge about the cognitive, emotional, and sensory mechanisms of change that might facilitate the transition to university for students with autism and reduce the risk posed on their mental health. My overall aim is to co-design, develop, test, and evaluate an autism-focused ‘Embracing University' feasibility trial that piggybacks on current support provision, commencing before Freshers' week and running into the first academic semester.

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Empowering University Students with Autism: Investigating the gap in knowledge about the cognitive, emotional, and sensory mechanisms of change that might facilitate the transition to university and reduce the risks posed on students' mental health.
  • Research supervisor: Dr Maria Livanou
  • Other research supervisors:

Biography

I completed my Computer Science undergraduate degree in Melbourne, Australia. I then spent ten years working in the IT industry in both software development and sales/marketing capacities. Upon relocating to the UK, I subsequently retrained to become a specialist teacher and assessor for learners with Specific Learning Differences. I am a full member of PATOSS and a holder of Assessment Practising Certificate since 2007. I have in the past fifteen years worked in primary, secondary, and Higher Education settings in facilitating study skills and independent learning, which I continue to do up to today. Fairly recently, I completed a Counselling Skills and Theory course followed by the MSc Psychology (conversion) course. I am particularly interested in enabling neuro-divergent students shift from negative to positive self-belief in developing new confidence in their identity and fulfilling their potential. My experience working with neuro-divergent students and family members has given me the means to connect and understand their struggles with embracing university.

Areas of research interest

  • Autism
  • Specific Learning Differences and Metacognition
  • Braille and Letter Reversals
  • Stigma
  • Deaf and Identity
  • Neurodiversity and Culture
  • Psychotherapeutic Interventions
  • Psychological flexibility
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder

Qualifications

  • BSc in Computer Science, Monash University, Australia. 1984-1987
  • PG Diploma Level 7 in Teaching and Assessing Learners with SpLD (Distinction), HADC. 2004-2006
  • NCFE CACHE Level 3 in Counselling Skills and Theory, Guildford College. 2018-2019
  • MSc in Psychology (Conversion) with Distinction, Kingston University, London. 2019-2021