Some may think that living with syncope can hinder the chances of living university life to the full. It may even put some people off going into higher education. However, there are support systems in place for students with disabilities and making full use of these can ensure that you are able to live university life to the max just like everyone else, even if you need a little extra guidance and support along the way!
Which university to go to
Although the course that you apply for and its location must be the prime factors in your decision as to which university to go, it is important that you research the level of welfare and disability support available. This information can often be difficult to find on a university website, so if this is the case, a phone call might be an easier option! It can be difficult to ensure that your needs are being catered for and that everyone will be sensitive to them in such an environment, so it is important that you establish what support you could receive before you start.
It is also important to find out whether there are any restrictions on the subject(s) that you wish to study. Having a history of blackouts and seizures can restrict certain career options and may prevent you from taking certain courses where having a blackout could put yourself or others at risk. To determine whether or not this is applicable to you, an individual assessment would have to be carried out.
Who to inform
Prospective students with syncope may feel reluctant to declare their medical condition on application forms in case they are unofficially discriminated against in the selection process. This should not be the case and the Disability Discrimination Act is in place to protect you. It is advised, although not essential that you declare the condition upon initial application to enable the university/college to prepare to accommodate you. The university will often send out relevant information about disability support available to the applicant on this basis. However, if you don’t disclose your disability on your application form, try to do so as soon as possible once you receive your letter of acceptance. The university still has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for your needs, but leaving it until you arrive to inform them will not endear you to the staff and will mean that the support implementation process will be delayed.
Even if you do not consider your condition to be a ‘disability’, it can mean that you may require additional support or concessions during your time in higher education.
Once you have started at university, you will need to decide who needs to be informed of your condition.
Is it possible that you may blackout during a class/lecture?
Do you think you would ever need time off if you are not feeling 100% or to recover?
What support might you need?
- Flexible deadlines?
- Book delivery service if you are unable to get to the library?
- Recording device to record lectures and missed lectures?
- System for missed handouts/resources to be sent to you?
- Photocopying allowance to copy missed work?
The best people to inform:
- Welfare and disability support officers
- University GPs
- Individual tutors and lecturers
- Head of Department
- Contact in halls of residence
- Friends and a neighbour in your halls and house
Due to the often-detached nature of teaching in higher education you may not have a lot of contact with a particular tutor/lecturer. However, it is still important that they are all made aware and provided with an emergency care plan in case you do ever have an episode in their presence. The welfare and disability staff can offer advice and liaise between departments, to ensure that the support you require is in place.
Establishing a support system may take a bit of time and effort so it is best to sort this out as early as possible.
In the majority of universities, students are allocated a personal tutor who provides welfare, rather than specifically academic support and is aware of any difficulties you may be having and can help to sort out any problems you may face.
Friends are always a great source of help and support and if they are fully informed about your condition, everyone can benefit; they would not panic in the instance of an episode and you would know someone is there to help you if necessary.
What they need to know
You may feel, especially if your condition is relatively mild, that you do not need to inform anyone. However, life at university is very different to that at home and the change in lifestyle and increased workload can aggravate an existing condition. It is better to have the support in place even if you never require it.
What information to provide:
-What RAS/Syncope is - the basic facts
-Details of your specific condition - the basic facts
-Any triggers, warning signs and side effects relevant to your case
-Any possible risks to self or others
-What happens when you blackout
-Care procedure to undertake when you blackout
-Any additional support that you already know you require e.g a system enabling you to receive any resources that you may have missed due to absence as a result of your condition, flexible deadlines, flexible timetable, special examination provisions etc
You may want to draw up a basic care plan to include all this information to hand out to all relevant persons regardless of whether you undergo formal assessment.
The Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA) is not means tested and exists to provide financial assistance for equipment and academic support.
A needs assessment will have to be carried out to determine if you are eligible for financial assistance to aid any additional needs that you may require. Your local education authority has to give permission for this and can fund this if the correct forms are completed, medical evidence is provided and you are deemed eligible. It is best to apply for this as soon as possible, preferably before you start your time in higher education so that you can be supported from the outset if you are eligible.
Living the student life
University or college is a big lifestyle change. Living away from home or simply being more independent, on top of the increase in workload can often be unexpected and overwhelming. However, it is important that you enjoy your time in higher education.
A few extra precautions may need to be taken if you have syncope.
- Make sure someone that you are going out with knows about your condition and what to do if you have an episode, i.e recovery position and to only call for an ambulance if you hurt yourself when you fall.
- If you are going to a club, you could inform the steward that you might have an episode, so that you are not simply kicked out for being drunk if you blackout!
- You could consider wearing a medic alert chain LINK and informing friends and people like club stewards that you have one.
- Stay hydrated. Alcohol can easily lead to dehydration, which can then trigger a syncopal episode.
Living in halls:
- Inform the warden or relevant member of staff in the halls of residence about your condition and provide them with a care plan.
- You could put a poster up in an appropriate place around the halls providing basic information about syncope.
- Inform someone who lives on your corridor and leave emergency numbers both with them and in a place where others can easily locate them.
- There may be other students that suffer with syncope at your university- perhaps you could start a student syncope support group!
Financial support is available for students with disabilities. It is usually subject to the results of a formal assessment and it is recommended that for some schemes such as the disabled student’s allowance, funding is applied for BEFORE you start.