All colleges have a department along the lines of Student Accessibility Services, which strives to create a barrier-free and equivalent environment for students with disabilities. Students are able to demonstrate independence and self-advocacy by discussing their needs with this department. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), certain accommodations are mandatory if requested by students. Despite the college’s efforts, sometimes SAS and the ADA are not enough to get all of a student’s accommodation needs. Sometimes a self-advocate will have to request accommodations from a professor on the spot.
Part I: For the Self-Advocate
Many colleges have multiple accessibility and accommodation resources; the first step is familiarizing yourself with them. Some campuses have alternate testing locations, writing resource centers, and silent areas in the library specifically for accommodation purposes. The only catch is that you have to be prepared to explain your needs to professors and other faculty so you can use these facilities to their maximum capacity.
Under the ADA, you are allowed preferential seating or a different room when taking exams, note takers, tape-recorded lectures, and extra time for exams. To access these accommodations, you must disclose your disability to the college or university.
There are also accommodations that professors can make for you that are not required under the ADA. For example, the course selection process, course exemptions or substitutions, permission to avoid certain assignments (group projects, discussions, oral presentations, etc.), substituting one form of exam for another, flexibility in due dates and class scheduling, and leniency in absence policies.
Here is an example of how to ask for accommodations via email. Remember to Cc your school’s SAS office or the responsible department.
Be prepared to receive an array of different responses from professors. While they should be willing to accommodate your needs, some are more eager to do so than others. If you feel particularly comfortable with a certain faculty member, you can approach them to be your mentor with whom you schedule meetings to talk about your college experience. They can be a helpful resource when if you come across a professor that is less willing to accommodate your classroom needs.
Part II: For the Professor
It is important to remember that asking for accommodations can feel far from easy on the student’s side. That being said, it is important to hear them out and work with them to meet the needs that they express. If any requests seem unreasonable and are not required under the ADA, consider coming up with a compromise that both meets the needs of the student and is comfortable for you to implement in the classroom.
Under the ADA, students are allowed accommodations like preferential seating or a different room when taking exams, designated note takers or tape-recorded lectures, and additional time to complete exams.
As a professor, you can also go above and beyond simply what the ADA requires of you. For example, helping students with ASD to develop study habits or offering open-ended assistance for more long-term assignments. If you want to go even further, you can also make yourself available as a means of support outside of the classroom for students. Serving as a social-emotional support for students to go to when they feel overwhelmed with their studies can be a helpful relationship for students.
According to a survey-study asking which accommodation college students with ASD prefer, the majority indicated that they prefer extra time to complete exams and receiving a copy of instructor comments on completed assignments.
Be cognizant of the use of literal and nuance language in your syllabi. Things that seem obvious to you might not be so apparent to students. People with ASD have difficulty understanding things like sarcasm and figures of speech, as they tend to comprehend language in its most literal sense. Additionally, students may find it overly challenging to follow directions with multiple tedious steps or participate in prolonged classroom discussions. When you are creating syllabi and lesson plans, keep these needs in mind; consider having alternate assignments prepared for students with accommodation needs so you do not feel inconvenienced during the semester.
Part III: Wrap-Up
Self-advocates, if you think the information in Part II would be helpful for your professors to have, direct them to this resource. Sometimes faculty and staff can forget that a student has accommodation needs. By passing this information along to professors, they are more likely to keep it in mind not only for you, but also for students in the future who may have the same requests as you. While being an advocate for yourself, you can also be an advocate for others who need your help.
For more information on disability support services, academic supports, and accommodations, check out OAR’s College Central page or the new guide “Finding Your Way: A College Guide for Students on the Spectrum,” which can be accessed online or ordered in hardcopy.
Accardo, A. L., Kuder, S. J., & Woodruff, J. (2018). Accommodations and support services preferred by college students with autism spectrum disorder. Autism,136236131876049. doi:10.1177/1362361318760490
Adreon, D., & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the College Transition Needs of Individuals With High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic,42(5), 271-279. doi:10.1177/10534512070420050201
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990,AS AMENDED with ADA Amendments Act of 2008. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm