How Can You Make Exams Less Stressful For Young People With Autism?

How Can You Make Exams Less Stressful For Young People With Autism?

If there is one thing guaranteed to cause anxiety either in my classroom or at home, it’s any mention of the words ‘exam’ or ‘test’.

In fact I’m absolutely sure that my students have an inbuilt radar which tells them when any of us have even been discussing the possibility of one!

Exams are stressful, it’s the feeling of making a mistake which can’t be rectified, it’s the thought of sitting in silence in a strange room with a strange person, it’s the thought of opening something which is unknown and not knowing the answers. It’s also a change from their usual routine – especially if the art exam for instance is put on a day when there normally isn’t any art.

The reality of life however, is that much as I hate seeing the added anxiety both my daughter and my students go through –being successful in the current education system demands that of them.

We need therefore to equip them with the skills to deal with this, without creating additional stress.

So here are my tried and tested strategies too get you and your students and/ or children through exams in one piece:

Avoid using the words – Exam or Test.

Remember the skills can be taught in other ways. You could explain that they need to work quietly today, because someone is feeling upset and needs the room to be quiet. Or tell them you need them to do a piece of writing without any help, so that you know which bits you have forgotten to teach this term. Remember that although you need your students to get used to doing exams, you can teach the procedure without the anxiety. (If the paper has a cover sheet with EXAM or TEST across the front, rip it off)

Try to minimise the importance of the test.

If you want to emphasise its importance to your other students, please find a very important job across the other side of the school and dispatch anxious students to complete it, whilst you discuss the importance of getting good marks in the impending exam.

Pick your times carefully.

In an ideal world the test should take place at the same time as the lesson normally would (thus reducing anxiety about change in routine, and making the student more likely to be willing to give it a go).
Keep it familiar

Allow the student to complete the test in a familiar place, with a familiar
person and familiar things around them. If a student feels safe they are
much less likely to be anxious and therefore much more likely to perform

Have a get out plan.

Make sure the students knows what they need to do if they feel like they can no longer cope. Can they take a time out? How do they need to ask for one? Where are they allowed to go?

Reinforcement, or shameless bribery and corruption.

Whilst I normally prefer the former, when the stakes are high and GCSEs are at stake – I have been known to engage in the latter. Make sure you have special rewards for particularly difficult tasks; things relating to your students’ special interests will be especially helpful and will make them feel calmer.

I know it’s hard. As teachers we have 101 demands on our time and multiple priorities competing for our attention, but being aware both of the levels of anxiety felt by many students with ASD about upcoming exams and knowing how to reduce that anxiety will make a massive difference, not only to their emotional state of mind (and that of their families) but also to their results.

Let’s make sure we empower our students to face the demands of the current system, rather than let it overwhelm both them and us.

What Now?

Why not join our lovely, friendly Facebook Group full of parents and teachers working together to share strategies to help our children.

If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.

Or if you’re looking for more personal support, why not check out our Consultancy Services.

As always if you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’m more than happy to help.

If you’d like a copy of our writing prompt cards to help young people find writing less overwhelming please subscribe below and we’ll get them to you right away.



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