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Tuesday 23 February 2021

Exam cancellation: an autistic point of view

Exams, an event dreaded by all, from the anxious wait outside getting ready to go in, to finding out whether or not you have done enough revision once you open the paper. Exam stress is a universal phenomenon but for autistic people it is much more than the points that I have just described.

It is the fear of hearing sudden noises mid concentration, the prospect that the lights might flicker, knowing that you might have to sit in a chair that you aren’t used to, normal habits are now seen as unacceptable and the list of horrors that one can potentially face is endless. 


The lack of clarity

Exam cancellation has provided a huge relief to many, knowing that they won’t be penalised for missing school and that now they have more time to focus on what matters to them. But many young autistic people had implemented revision into their routine. It had become an established part of their life so having these exams snatched away from them has made them ask the question:

'Why did I waste my time revising?'

From one day to the next the well-established routine has been changed but replaced with what?

The lack of clarity means that autistic students don’t know how to amend their timetables. Messages are being sent out daily by schools explaining further steps but then these plans are subsequently scrapped due to the Government announcing further guidance and restrictions. This ever-changing information is a nightmare to process and meltdowns then arise. The concept of the unknown looming in the distance and knowing that you have to prepare for change is extremely daunting, but what change will it be next?


Uncertainty of what is happening is still present

Having tirelessly studied and fought to cope with the challenges of school, this cancellation seems like a punishment. With teachers now assessing grades, all work now counts and every piece of work will be scrutinised. There is no longer a margin for error and perfection is required constantly. If that perfection threshold is not met what will be the consequence? Will grades go down? These questions, that have very subjective answers, continue to fuel the fire of the fear which presents itself as the unknown.

Although daunting, the routine surrounding exams has long been established. Despite the high anxiety, many autistic people have experienced an exam environment so they are better prepared for this than the unknown concept of teacher assessed grades. 


Never ending changes

Exam reminders are drilled into students from the start of the course, and with the teacher’s encouragement you can perform well and prove to everyone that being autistic doesn’t hold you back. The never-ending changes that autistic young people have faced this year demonstrates a lack of consideration for those who require more processing time. Many now lack motivation to keep studying and keep up with school work due to the mental constraints these changes have imposed. The uncertainty of what is happening is still present. ‘Mini exams’ have been announced but not confirmed and this only continues to stress people with autism and create a bigger barrier for them in terms of being motivated to complete work set by teachers.

The questions and the confusion around exams need to be explained as autistic students who felt disadvantaged by having exams cancelled, are now even more confused than before.


About the author 

Emily is 17 years old and from Essex. She is a Youth Patron for Ambitious about Autism.