18 April 2018 16:43

A Lancaster University student, diagnosed with autism at an early age, has set up an organisation, the first of its kind in the UK, to help socially anxious people.

And for his endeavours, Jack Roby, a second year Fine Arts student, received a Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Award at a ceremony in London to coincide with National Autism Week recently. 

Jack, is the founder and president of Lancaster Autism Social Society (LASS), the UK’s first society for students with autism. His initiative was one of two runners-up in the Universities UK-organised awards scheme. 

The judges said the project highlighted the wellbeing needs of students with autism needed to be more in the spotlight with a stronger focus on what could be done to help. 

“Socialising has always been a difficult predicament for me,” explains Jack, whose hometown is Formby, Liverpool. “Being diagnosed as on the spectrum during my mid-teens, whilst giving explanation, did little to alleviate my social anxiety. 

“Having attended an all-boys school and coming from an all-boys family, the expectation for me was mainly a ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle. House parties, night clubs and social media never really harmonised with my wavelength. This issue only compounded due to my epilepsy and proneness for sensory overload. Often this dilemma led to isolation at school, something I sought to overcome coming to university.” 

Jack set up LASS last year as an alternative university social life. 

“Having insight into the mechanics of autism due to my own diagnosis I realised structure would be of paramount importance to LASS’s success,” said Jack. “An intimate, organised familiar, setting is what causes people with autism to engage. 

“Facilitating socialising was my primary objective, believing firmly mental well-being and social skills would improve by mere participation.” 

LASS is a weekly social society held in the Fylde Common Room on Tuesdays 6pm to 8.30pm. The time slot is arranged to allow flexibility with members, encouraging them to organise LASS around their priorities not their priorities around LASS. 

This encourages members not to think of LASS as a commitment, which combined with the pressurised layout of education would only encourage negative connotations with socialising. 

Though primarily marketed towards people on the autistic spectrum, LASS also hosts people with social anxiety or those simply looking for a change of pace. 

Weekly activities range from board games and film nights to occasional festive celebrations. The underlying connection linking all our activities is to encourage an organic, collaborative, social participation. 

All seeking a change of pace to their university social life are welcome to join and for further information please contact Jack at j.roby@lancaster.ac.uk 

Fine Art Admissions Tutor at Lancaster University Gerry Davies, a Senior Lecturer in Drawing, said: “When Jack joined us we quickly realised his enthusiasm for art and great technical skills in painting and drawing.  

“What we didn’t immediately see was his commitment to the folks around him, his peers and those in the wider community.   

“Working quietly Jack formed LASS. He also started up a weekly life drawing class to provide teaching and experience to students across the university.   

“These qualities of initiative, engagement and sharing - along with his wicked sense of humour - make a huge contribution to the culture and well-being of our fine art students at Lancaster.”