As my daughter is currently in her final week of GCSE’s, it seemed only appropriate to write a special blogpost all about autism and exams. This time of year, teenagers up and down the country are sitting their GCSE and A Level papers. For the autistic child, formal examinations can create a unique set of issues and challenges. It is useful to know what kind of help is available in order to minimise the stress associated with exam season.
Does My Autistic Child Need/Want to Take Exams?
The first point to address is whether taking exams is in the child’s best interest. Autism, being a spectrum condition, affects people in any number of ways. This will affect their ability to perform in an examination scenario. Schools should treat each child as an individual. Will an exam cause unnecessary stress? Is the child capable of doing the work needed in order to pass the exam? Are they able to understand what is expected of them?
In some cases autistic children are not able or ready to do a GCSE. However, there are many entry-level qualification options available to choose from that may be more suitable. Also, an autistic child may excel in more practical subjects. In that case a vocational course may be more appropriate than an academic one.
When deciding what qualifications to take, it is important to consider the interests and strengths of the child. What subjects are they strong in? What does the child want to do as a career? Are they considering a university path? These questions are important when considering which exams to take.
Autism and Exams: Access Arrangements
Schools are able to make special arrangements for autistic pupils taking exams. Again, the needs of the child must be considered. How does their autism affect them in an exam scenario? For example, a child with sensory issues may have problems sitting in an exam hall with other pupils. The sounds of people tapping their feet, pens on paper, coughs and sneezes, may be extremely distracting and uncomfortable. A child with autism may also have fine motor problems, which means that they cannot write as quickly as other children, which would be a great disadvantage in a timed exam.
Access arrangements may include placing a child in a smaller, quieter room to take the exam, so that there are less distractions. Autistic children may also be given extra time to complete their work or allowed access to a laptop or computer so that they can type their answers rather than write them. They may be allowed a reader and/or a scribe during the exam.
It is important to contact the school as soon as possible to put access arrangements in place. These often need to be arranged months in advance with the cooperation of the exam board involved.
Autism and Exams: In Summary
Autistic children are definitely capable of sitting exams and qualifications are more accessible than ever. Schools are making it easier for autistic children by being more inclusive. Autism needn’t be a barrier to academic achievement.
Here’s wishing everyone taking exams every success this year. Keep overcoming challenges and persevering. Hopefully, your hard work will be reflected in your grades in a few months time. And also don’t forget the amazing teachers, parents and support staff who help our autistic children to be the best that they can be.
For more information, the National Autistic Society has a useful webpage on exam guidance.