Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What can't be reasonably accommodated

J is midway through his first semester in college and, depending on how you look at things, they're either going much better, or much worse, than expected.

On the positive side, he's getting himself to class on time (he commutes from home), interacting appropriately with professors and classmates in person and by email, participating in class, spending many hours daily doing his work, and turning in most assignments on time without reminders. In the subject that has always been his weakest, English, he's coming up with plenty of things to say, even when asked to write personal narratives, and expressing himself relatively clearly and grammatically. In another required course, introductory psychology, he's very much enjoying the content. He remembers to keep non-routine appointments, and when things go awry--like when the Pope comes to town and the class schedule changes, or when he forgets to bring a hard copy of an assignment and has to figure out a way to print it out on campus--he's on top of it rather than freaked out. In all these respects, he's far outperforming the J of our wildest hopes and dreams.

On the negative side, he's doing very badly in several of his classes. He has bombed on several midterms. He has lost many points on a number of his computer science assignments. He'll probably have to drop at least one class--maybe more. And, though he can earn some extra credit points for psychology by participating in psych experiments, his hearing and language disabilities have disqualified him from 3/4 of the experiments currently recruiting subjects.

The problem isn't that J doesn't understand the concepts. He's a quick, efficient programmer and has an intuitive feel for computational issues. Nor do the concepts in introductory psychology--operant conditioning, cognitive fallacies, optical illusions, procedural vs. declarative memory--appear to baffle him.

The problem isn't a lack of accommodation: J has his disability letter and has been approved for all the accommodations that seem possibly helpful. He has note takers, extended time on tests, priority seating, access to power points ahead of class, tutoring…

The problem, rather, is that J continues to struggle with language. In particular, he continues have great difficulty understanding the language of lectures and textbooks, and of tests and assignments. Presented with a multiple choice question, several crucial words within the question or the choices invariably trip him up and, even if he knows the material or concept being probed, he doesn't know which of the choices answers the question. Presented with long set of verbal directions for a computer science assignment, he thinks he knows what to do--and ends up doing a completely different assignment.

Should he changed his major to math, where the verbal directions are less complicated--but the job options perhaps not as good?

Of all J's accommodations, most helpful are those that put oral language in writing: the note taking and power points. But these do not address the core problem of Language in general. (Plus, given all the virtues of note-taking, J is missing out on a lot in not being able to process language well enough to take notes himself).

What J really needs right now is (1) a psychology text that somehow covers the same material in much more simple, autism-friendly language and (2) someone who understands what's being assigned in his computer science classes and can sit down with him and translate those expectations into simple, autism friendly language. But these are nowhere near what would be considered "reasonable" accommodations.

One might reply that perhaps J shouldn't be in college in the first place. But I'm not sure where else would be more appropriate for him at this time. And this, plus the fact, for so many aspects of college, J has so remarkably risen to the occasion, makes me want to find a way, somehow, to help him make it work.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...



2) Is having someone explain the computer science assignment something you could find, but not something to expect the school to provide? Or are you concerned that it might be an inappropriate accommodation (i.e. cheating)?

lgm said...

One strategy is to use the CC text. And Kahn Academy is quite popular. I dont know J's language level to know if it will work for him, but that is what the students from the poorer high schools use when tutoring is not open at my son's U. They are at a large disadvantange in comparison to those who went to high schools that used texts and offered AP level.

kcab said...

Can J meet with the CS professor or TA to discuss assignments when they're given - during office hours or other times? They'd be best placed to say what it is they want and might also benefit if they learn how the assignments are misunderstood. Sounds like J might need someone to take notes during that meeting though - perhaps another student could?