Today, I administered the second examination for my General Psychology students. The class is held from 12 to 2.
I informed my students that they could take the full two hours to complete this exam, if necessary. The test consisted of fifty multiple-choice questions.
I also required them to complete five, out of a possible seven, short-answer questions. Students interested in the possibility of receiving extra credit were permitted to answer all seven short-answer questions.
The overwhelming majority of my students completed this exam within just one hour. One student took nearly two hours to finish her test.
After she completed her exam, she timidly approached my desk. She handed me a paper, stating that she has been approved for reasonable accommodations for testing.
She asked if I would be willing to provide my signature for this document. I said that I would be happy to do so. This included my approval to take double the class time for completion of an exam.
I asked her if she would feel comfortable disclosing the diagnosis for which she has been approved a reasonable accommodation. I gently informed her that it wasn’t necessary to disclose this specific diagnosis, should it make her feel uncomfortable to do so.
She timidly informed me that she had been formally diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder. I thanked her for being willing to share this highly personal information. I also stated that I was proud of her for pursuing her academic goals, despite the unique academic challenges associated with her diagnosis.
Many years ago, I requested a reasonable accommodation myself. I was studying to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). At that time, I had already been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS. This neurological disorder is notorious for slowing speed of information processing.
I certainly didn’t want to have my diagnosis impair my performance on such a critically important examination, given the highly competitive nature of admission to graduate programs in psychology. I, too, felt self-conscious about asking for a reasonable accommodation at that point in time.
Twenty-four years later after I received a reasonable accommodation to take the GRE, I was afforded the opportunity to extend the exact same type of accommodation to one of my General Psychology students. This was a deeply rewarding, as well as very moving, experience.
I strongly maintain that one of the purposes of our challenges is to develop empathy toward others who are facing the very same types of obstacles. In so doing, our personal suffering need never be wasted.