Home > Autism Speaks U > Call it Cheating or Call it Accommodating?

Call it Cheating or Call it Accommodating?

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a recent graduate of Seton Hall University. He started the club Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

I’ve heard this debate to death. Where do we draw the line? Do individuals with disabilities deserve extended time on tests and other accommodations or does it give those individuals an unfair advantage versus the individuals who do not receive these accommodations? The main stream debate seems to have been focused on the SAT/ACT and quite recently involving the GRE/GMAT/LSAT’s as well.  (Imagine someone with autism with these choices!)  Where do I stand on the question? To be honest I’m not a firm believer in the concept of timed tests at all.

The reason this came up for me quite recently was I was having a discussion with a peer about how individuals with autism may not deserve extended time but other learning disabled individuals may  after all some person’s with Aspergers are off the charts intellectually. It should come down to how does your autism affect your writing skills; how does autism affect your ability to read an exam; and how does autism affect your ability to focus on an exam? While many individuals judge autistic individuals within a certain stereotype of it being a communication/social interaction disability the argument was that maybe it should be focused on those who have a stronger deficit in one of those 3 primary areas previously mentioned more apparent for individuals with Learning Disabilities such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Dyslexia and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

In both high school and college I received extended time on tests as an accommodation (in fact, in high School we were given the opportunity to take as long as we wanted/needed with no time limit). In college it was very interesting to see the reaction of my peers when I would tell them that I had extra time that they didn’t. One individual even went to the lines of saying that I was “cheating”. The hope of leveling the playing field is clearly not a belief seen by all.

So where does my opinion lie in this debate? Easy. I think the education system is broken. This is one of the many problems that our education system in theUnited Statesis dealing with. More individuals with disabilities are going to college now than ever before which includes those with autism. Does our patriotic message of “equality all” tarnish with extended time? Yes and no. Autism is a wide spectrum filled with many different types of traits and characteristics that affect us educationally. That means some will deserve this accommodation and some won’t. The problem is when you give someone permission for extended time you are only seeing that they have a disability. All the characteristics mean nothing. You either give it to all who have autism or you don’t.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you pro extended time or con for individuals with Autism? Thanks everyone for reading!

This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at kerry.magro@autismspeaks.org or through my Fan Page here.

  1. August 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I’m for it, assuming there’s been an IEP and documentation that the time element is one that’s a valid problem for the student in question. My oldest son has Aspergers and Tourettes, and when he’s stressed, as in a test situation, he can’t control his tics and the time just flies by. He required accommodations to help him get his writing finished. If someone were to ask him the answers, he could do this, but the writing element is where his disability is pronounced. I call it a disability because it’s something he cannot control and it prevents him from doing things required of him for school.

  2. Emily King
    August 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    I think that leveling the playing field is a good standard to have. Set no time limits for everyone.

  3. mingomom
    August 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I don’t see any problem with eliminating timed tests. Making the test time open-ended is not going to magically provide answers for anyone. You either know it, or you don’t. But without test anxiety due to the timed aspect, most people will probably finish before the original “time” anyway. If it takes some people longer, than so be it. The argument then is that all test takers can take the extra time if they choose. An added benefit is that no one is singled out.

  4. helene
    August 1, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    We have IEP`s for a reason…to help the individual involved. Time limits should be based on the need of the individual. If in the IEP, than do it.

  5. Adam Vogel
    August 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I believe that people with disabilities should be allowed to have extended time for taking exams. The goal for taking an exam is your knowledge for the material, not the time for taking it. When I was a student at UW-Whitewater I was given extended double time for taking exams there. Let you know that I was a part of the Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD). It’s a program that is designed to provide accommodations for students with either physical, behavioral, or learning disabilities. I think your, and the folks at Autism Speaks would be amazed on UW-Whitewater’s track record on dealing people with disabilities. UW-Whitewater, in my opinion, is arguably the best school in the country with regards to providing accommodation and advocacy for people with disabilities.
    It just shows you that UW-Whitewater is more than just a accounting school or football school, as we have won 3 of the past 4 national championships in NCAA DIII football.

    Finally, since football is just around the corner, GO WARHAWKS! Hope to see them in the Stagg Bowl come December.

  6. dove
    August 1, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    What does the doctor say? It is true that some with Aspergers have normal range intelligence and may not need the extra time. In these cases I suppose their doctors would not write a note on their behalf regarding extra time for tests. But for those who can not meet the time deadline for any reason due to their autism then it would make sense their doctor would write that note for accommodation.

  7. August 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Here’s what I’m thinking: Drive down the street and look at each building as you pass it and see how many are equipped with wheel chair ramps – most, right? Espevcially those with steps or stairs OR the building is simply flat to the sidewalk and no ramp is required. So who uses these ramps? ONLY those in wheelchairs? Although wheel chair ramps were designed to be used by anyone in a wheel chair, those in wheel chairs are not the only users of these accessible ramps. There are people using walkers, crutches, there are people who’s physical conditions make it really hard to deal with steps AND there are simply people who sometimes use the ramp – just because it’s there, it’s accessible and it’s easy to use! If, by placing a wheelchair accesible ramp makes it easier for people in wheel chairs to reach that building or business….then do it! It does not take anway anything from anyone else – it simply makes life more accessible for those who do need the extra help and/or anyone who just happens to use it. A person in their right mind is not going to say “hey, that person in the wheel chair cheated, he got to go up the ramp and i had to take the steps”. Right? It’s really the same thing with the extra time on the tests for those with disabilities. Offer it – if by offering extended time on a test to all with disabilities, makes the testing more accesible and better navigated by some, then offer it. Some with disabilities may use it and some may not. It does not take away from anyone else who is taking the test. Seriously, I would hope that any person in their right mind would not say “hey that guy with Autism cheated, he got an extra 30 minutes and I had to be done with the 60 minute tie frame alotted for the test”. Seriously, my answer would be “REALLY? Seriously? How about you tell that autistic person you’d like to trade circumstances”…..think about that. That cheating comment was rediculious – I can assure you & I know this is a fact: most people have no idea what & how it is to have autism. No clue.

    • Lynn Strype
      August 1, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      I think your perspective on this subject is dead on! One thing, I do know is that as the mother of a 13 year old autistic child, I can tell you what and how it is to have autism. I am my child’s shield against all things that will harm him….and me. I must prepare myself for his day. I must prepare the school and teachers for his daily activities. I do not speak for him but for him to have a productive life, I must walk in his shoes…one step ahead, one step behind…always looking for the positive ways we all can coexist in harmony….while creating an environment in which my child can thrive. It is not easy and it is not simple. It is not the same for everyone…….yes, “most people have no idea what and how it is to have autism. No clue”.
      But I do. Today, tomorrow and forever.

      • Bill
        August 2, 2011 at 11:18 am

        But isn’t it also true that none of us have any idea how it is in anyone else’s life? That every individual in the world is…an individual, whether or not they have Autism, are EI, CI, OHI, LD, ADHD, ADD (or are not labeled with anythying)? While advocating for your child is obviously the right and honorable thing to do, you speak of preparing the school and teachers for his daily activities. Do you prepare him for his teachers? Are you (in the long run) preparing the path for your child, or will you eventually prepare your child for the path ahead?

    • jody
      August 2, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Lynn I agree and love the way you said it!!

    • Paula
      August 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm

      I very much relate these comments. My Aspergers child was called a cheater by his classmates. They bullied and ridiculed him so badly, in class, on the playground and in the cafeteria. He was so stressed out he could barely handle it. And the teachers and principal did nothing to help us. I was doing everything I could to get him to hold on until the pupil appraisal because I was sure they would move him from this general setting class to a special ed setting. He had already bonded with a special ed teacher and wanting nothing more than to be in her class.

      Finally, at the pupil appraisal meeting, they found that he did not qualify for services, even though I presented them with a psych’s eval and an academic eval and a social skills counselor with his diagnoses.

      I was so disappointed. I kept telling them that he needed help and they just told me to agree with their reclassification of Other Health Impaired and he would get what he needed. They saw how desperate I was so they completed the report right then and there, printed it and gave one to me and couriered the original to the school.

      When I called the principal the next day and spoke with her I asked if she could now move my son to a more appropriate setting, She told me they would review the report but that there was no special ed class to move him to and he would probably stay where he was.

      I had the impression that these teachers didn’t want the trouble of teaching a special needs child. On the very first day, when I met his teacher and advised her of his diagnosis and that he should be sitting more in the front of the class instead of in the middle, she told me in no uncertain terms that he was in the wrong class and he wasn’t going to get what he needed in her class.

      I felt that they were going to just let my son continue to suffer. The principal showed no concern or interest and she admitted to having knowledge about the bullying but had nothing to say about why I was not informed.

      Even the school counselor who I spoke with previously about my son did nothing to help him. She didn’t even speak with him after reports of being teased. When I told her about the incident in his classroom that he recited to me weeks after it happened, she asked for specific names and added that surely the entire class was not teasing him.

      I had the distinct impression that she was trying to stay out of the situation rather than be an advocate for my son.

      So basically, all of the people who should have been advocates for him in the school setting were abandoning him. No one wanted to bother.

      I then remembered that in the pupil appraisal, one of the four professionals, a psychiatrist “intern” was the only one who suggested (although not in writing) that my son would “benefit greatly from a small class setting.”

      So I did the only thing I could do. I withdrew him from school and began homeschooling. It was so obvious to me that this principal had “no clue” and what’s worse she didn’t really care.

      I wish our country’s school systems would do a better job with teaching these special children. I’d love to send him to a school that specializes in teaching autistic children but the tuition is sky high and there’s not even anything in the State of Louisiana.

  8. Noreen
    August 1, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    Most of our kids need the extra time (at least in the beginning) to process the information. This may mean reading the question 2 or 3 times and looking for key words to processes vs. someone who would read it once and answer it. My son has a lot of processing problems and also struggles HUGELY with ATTENTION enough to complete the work. He may need a movement break to both calm himself and rest his mind a little. I think extra time is a good thing. I also believe that some typicals have problems with processing and if they feel they need more time, should speak to a counselor. I wouldn’t talk much about the very little “perks” you get considering all the other challenges. That person just does not understand. They are not Autistic! :)

  9. Lynn Strype
    August 1, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    A child with autism can have co-morbidity issues that make it difficult for test taking. The concept of unlimited time for taking tests is grand but who will monitor this process? Yes, the school system in the US is broken. In Florida, I am often told that the teacher’s obligation can and is regulated by their union contract…..not the benefit of the child…..I have a child who is in college now but he and I were denied time and time again an unbiased audience for his disabilities to progress toward an IEP. Ironically, at college, he has accommodations. I don’t understand how this could happen when all parties are held accountable to the Florida Department of Education and the United States Department of Education. We have been down some very rocky roads and some smooth sailing. I do know that the anxiety level of my children and their disabilities becomes less of an issue in taking tests when they are given extra time and/or in a quiet place…………and they are able to shine to the best of their abilities. Oh, it is the law to have child study meetings as an entree into an IEP. Do not let schools use RTI to stop you from getting the IEP….In January, 2010, the US Department of Education ruled on this and sent a two page letter to every school district.

  10. Larballoon
    August 1, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    My child has Aspergers. He is intellectually off the charts. However, he has trouble physically with writing and mentally with placing his thoughts on a piece of paper. When reading standardized questions he has trouble choosing an answer provided because he comes up with his own answer that is logically more sensible. Yet, despite placing him in the best school in our city, and despite attending 3 types of therapy every week, and despite the school providing special accommodations he still struggled and felt exasperated at the end of every school day.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that I agree with the author that most of the school systems are broken. I believe it is partly due to the fact that most educators (including principals and vice principals and even school psychologists) do not understand autism unless they have been affected by it personally. I am at the point that I will be home schooling my child again as this has been the most effective method of helping my child succeed in a non-stressful environment. I’m done with the public school system. I truly feel for autistic children and their parents that have no choice but to go ’round and ’round with the public school system.

    As for allowing all children to not be timed on a test, I say go for it. Allowing extra time for everyone would benefit all as the stress of beating the clock would be taken away.

  11. Velma
    August 2, 2011 at 2:57 am

    All people with disabilities regardless of the skill they posses deserve extended time on the test it is not the skill that is the reason for the extended time but rather the frustration level of feeling rushed and making mistakes because the brain of a person with a disability is not like the brain of others as. Well as sensory and other things that do not affect regular education people so yes extra time is fair for people with disabilities and no it is not cheating look at it in a positive view and a mature one, in the end it does not matter who has the highest grade; just that everyone had the chance to be a successful person and have a good career and life…..

  12. Barbara Pons
    August 2, 2011 at 7:50 am

    I think for my son the extra time wouldn’t benefit him. He has a tough enough time with the work it self. He says it is really hard. He is 11. I have a choice at his school. I think after so much time that my son would just give up and be done. But i think the extra time for those that need it is absolutely acceptable and not considered cheating. Like it was said before….you either know it or you don’t.

  13. Kathleen Ciarpelli
    August 2, 2011 at 8:03 am

    I am for extended time if your disability effects you in a way that you require it. Many people with disabilities are slow to process, have reading difficulties, math calculation difficulties despite the use of a calculator because again it is the processing issue. A disability is a label but the characteristics effect everyone a bit differently. When I hear someone say it is unfair, I ask would you ask someone with one leg to run the race without some sort of accomodation??

  14. Traci
    August 2, 2011 at 9:02 am

    My son has Asperger’s & ADHD. Written tests, extended time or not, are his downfall. He has an IEP that allows him modifications, at the discretion of his teacher(s). When required to write, he failed. When given multiple choice answers with one or two lines to write supporting sentences, VIOLA! he began to pass his tests. My point is this: A disability is not a choice-you can become disabled and/or be born with it. To not acknowledge it and accommodate it (to me) means setting up a person for failure. I had a wonderful friend, that before his death, said that all educational staff should be required to work/teach for a minimum of two years, in a disabled environment as part of their education, to further awareness of autism. It’s not going away, but becoming more prevelant. I wholeheartedly agree with Jeanne-most people do not have a clue @ autism, and are too lazy to educate themselves about it, and that’s a shame. ADVOCATE, ADVOCATE, ADVOCATE – doesn’t always make my husband and I the most popular parents, but it’s been said many many times, don’t judge until YOU’VE spent a DAY in OUR shoes! Thanks for letting me speak, God bless you all!

  15. Lauren Whittingham
    August 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Excellent comments and discussion, some people need glasses or hearing aids no one tries to take them away or says it is not fair. We need to look at accommodations as individual, what each person needs. As a special education teacher I know doing this takes time (!) but it is what is fair to each child and allows them to reach their full potential. I have an uncle (81) and a brother (54) who are autistic but not identified because they have normal or better IQ’s though both of them worked full time in engineering and computer programing neither graduated from college partly because they could not do the course work in the non-technical subjects. Extra time and other minor accommodations would have enabled them to graduate. My brother has made NASA computers talk to each other for years, he has done an excellent job but does not even have an associates degree because as a child he was not identified with a disability. I see the self esteem issues he has as an adult because he was “not smart” (his words) and could not finish college. My daughter has dyslexia and has been very proactive on what she needs to level the playing field and does not think of her self as dumb, but someone who thinks differently and creatively. This is a great discussion!!!

  16. Kiri
    August 5, 2011 at 2:52 am

    It doesn’t surprise me that someone made a comment that you were “cheating” because you received extra time on a test. I get filthy looks from other parents at my daughter’s school just because she has an education assistant four afternoons a week. Some people are just mean spirited.

    I work at a university in Canada, and accommodation plans for students with disabilities are very detailed and depend upon the needs of the individuals. You can only get extra time if the disability impacts your test performance.

  17. Dave
    August 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Having taught 7th grade for many years, I agree whole heartedly with the author. I never felt that allowing extra time, or for that matter any accomadation that would help the student prove that they had “learned” the material, was unfair to the ohers. Tests are supposed to be demonstrating that a student has learned the material. It should not be a contest among the students.

  18. Carol
    August 6, 2011 at 10:09 am

    In my experience… you either KNOW the material or you don’t. Extending my time (I am NOT autistic) will not make me more successful on tests. I believe that the time limit should be extended to anyone that feels they need it, again… you either know it or you don’t… I think the people that complain about this are those that are poorly prepared to take the exam and are looking for an excuse for more time.

  19. August 26, 2011 at 3:14 am

    Dave :
    Having taught 7th grade for many years, I agree whole heartedly with the author. I never felt that allowing extra time, or for that matter any accomadation that would help the student prove that they had “learned” the material, was unfair to the ohers. Tests are supposed to be demonstrating that a student has learned the material. It should not be a contest among the students.

    I certainly agree!

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