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Reasonable Accommodation for Individuals with ASD

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by Temple Grandin, PhD
Autism Asperger’s Digest
 | May/June 2010

I received an email recently from a woman with autism who is successfully part way through a Ph.D. program. She was inspired by my story and decided to get over a “handicapped mentality” and not let autism stand in the way of success. I am becoming more and more concerned about young students who are using high functioning autism or Asperger’s as an excuse not to be able to do certain things. My mother insisted on standards of behavior such as good table manners, patient turn-taking, and not being rude. It is never too late to start teaching the essential social skills whether a person is two, twelve or twenty.

In my opinion, some of the accommodations students are asking for in college are ridiculous and promote the handicap mentality. One student expected the counseling department at a large university to intervene and stop a student who was using his mobile phone to text message in a huge class filled with over 200 students. To solve this problem, all she had to do was change seats to get away from the clicking keys. No one had taught her how to look for a simple solution first.

I have been receiving increasing complaints from college professors about students who disrupt classes and attempt to carry on a dialogue with the professor. When I was in college, I had a rule. It was one question per class period. Mr. Carlock, my science teacher, explained that the reason for this rule is to provide other students an opportunity to ask their questions. The principle is the same as turn taking during board games or card games.

However, there are reasonable accommodations that are essential for some ASD individuals in college. A student may need just one or most of these accommodations.

  1. Taking exams in a room without fluorescent lights. I had a dyslexic student who totally “spaced” out and could not think in a room with fluorescent lights.
  2. Some extra time on tests.
  3. A quiet place to study; some individuals may need a private dorm room.
  4. Tutoring in some subjects.
  5. A lighter course load and taking an extra year to finish the degree.

At my university, more and more students want to take their exams in a private room at theCounselingCenter. This creates a big hassle for the professor because that test paper is now separated from all the others. As a professor, I really dislike this because I write all my test questions on the blackboard. I do this to prevent students from archiving my old exams and using them as study guides. The reasonable accommodation I provide for these students is to allow them to take their tests in our department conference room. It has windows and the fluorescent lights can be turned off. Students need to be taught to ask for a specific accommodation that helps with a specific problem, rather than a blanket request such as taking all quizzes and exams at theCounselingCenter.

I have also talked to several professionals who work in the field of getting people on the spectrum employed. They share my concerns. One professional told me that at one college, Asperger students were given less homework. I was never given less homework. A better alternative would be to take a lighter coarse load and go to college for an extra year. This has worked well for many AS students.

When an individual with ASD graduates and gets out into the world of employment, it is often much wiser to not fully disclose. This is especially important for the really smart, nerdy Asperger kids. I received an email from a talented professional who was successfully employed for several years. He lost his job after he told his employer he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. It was discrimination and it was totally wrong. He needed no specific accommodation and disclosure opened the door to blatant discrimination. Often it is better to ask for a specific accommodation instead, such as having an office cube near a window to avoid fluorescent lights. Other examples of problems and solutions include:

  1. Difficulty with remembering long strings of verbal instruction. Tell the boss you prefer emailed instructions.
  2. Difficulty multi-tasking. Try to avoid these jobs if possible, or explain, “I’m not good at multi-tasking.” Show your boss all the things you are really good at when you are not forced to multi-task.
  3. Need clear work objectives. Learn to ask lots of questions. I learned this in my design business. I questioned the client extensively about cattle handling tasks he had to do in the corral to obtain specific design objectives. However, I never asked a client how he wanted a project designed. That was my job.

I am concerned that some individuals with ASD are getting a “handicapped mentality” and think ASD renders them incapable of doing and achieving certain things. Or they feel their ASD diagnosis is a way out of doing the hard work that is required in life. This attitude will certainly hold them back from personal and professional success. In essence, they feel “less than” – which is not true. They are different, but not less. Reasonable accommodations exist to help an individual through tough spots. They are not an excuse for applying oneself in earnest to the tasks we all encounter in creating a life for ourselves and a place in this world.

Temple Grandin is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted high-functioning person with autism in the world today.


Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2010. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print means prohibited without written permission of publisher.

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  1. Good Morning, this has been a very informative article. Myself as well as my Daughter have been struggling with the concept of Home School vs Public School. I have reviewed many different articles, concerning this. After discovering this website and many of it’s articles, I thought why not go to one of the best sources available, Temple Grandin. It would be greatly appreciated to know what your thoughts are in regards to
    Home School vs Public School.


    Parent and Grand Parent
    Of Children Succeeding With Asperger’s

    • kimfields says:

      Thanks for your query, Belinda. Stay tuned for the next issue of AADigest, where Temple’s column is all about “Which School Is Best for My Child with ASD” (JULY 2012).
      AADigest Staff