Supporting neurodivergent children with their exams

As many children and teenagers begin their SATs, GCSEs, and A-Levels, a lot of students will be feeling the pressure.

Exams are stressful for most pupils, but neurodivergent children face additional challenges when it comes to exam season.

From our experience supporting young people throughout their education, we cannot stress the importance of getting the right support.

The first step to do so is to recognise the difficulties that exams may present.

Difficulties interpreting tasks

One of the often overlooked challenges for neurodiverse children taking exams is the language used on papers.

Usually, this language varies from what is taught in class, and can quickly become confusing.

Teaching command words can help students to better understand what is expected of them. We recommend introducing mock exam questions to students early to help them get to grips with command words.

For both teachers and educational support professionals, preparing young people for these differences is key. As we will discuss later in this article, having the right accommodations in place is pivotal for supporting the child’s success.

Adapting to a different environment

For many young neurodiverse people, many learning environments can be overwhelming and stressful. Exam conditions are no exception.

Sitting an exam is a very different environment to what many young people are used to, which is why they must be prepared in advance.

Exposing them to exam conditions in a less stressful situation can allow them to adapt ahead of time. This ensures that the environment is not a contributing factor.

If young people are unable to cope with large exam halls, it may be best to seek accommodations. This can include doing exams in separate areas or classrooms, allowing students to have a more familiar environment.

Dealing with anxiety

Exams are known to cause a higher level of stress, which can be heightened if the young person is not familiar with the process.

It is important to ensure that the young person is looking after themselves throughout the exam season. Whilst studying and revising are important, it is good to ensure that they are taking adequate rest breaks and not burning themselves out.

High levels of anxiety can have a knock-on effect on a child’s health, including losing sleep, not eating, and their ability to concentrate.

Ensuring that the child has a safe space to talk is key.

We’ve found that a well-rounded approach, encompassing educational and therapeutic support, provides the child with the best environment to excel in their development.

Having suitable adjustments

Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can often qualify for suitable adjustments in exams.

This can come in multiple forms depending on the child’s specific needs but can include:

  • Having access to a laptop
  • Extra-time
  • Additional support to explain questions (such as a reader and a scribe)
  • Modified exam papers
  • Supervised rest breaks
  • Alternative rooming arrangements

These can all make the exam process more accessible for children with SEND, giving them a fairer chance to achieve the best results.

The question we often face relates to whether these accommodations are enough. Depending on the individual, alternative methods of gauging skill levels may be more appropriate.

At Almond House, we look at the full picture to assess a young person’s progress.

By taking behaviour, social skills, emotional resilience and independence into account, we tailor our support to ensure our students have the life skills they need to succeed.

If you are looking for support for a young person, please get in touch with our team today.

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