Friday 12 April 2024

Helping my autistic son prepare for exams - creating steps

As my eldest heads towards the end of his time in secondary school, I'm running a few posts to support kids in the run up to their exams.  Today it is about breaking things down into smaller parts. 

Being prepared is something you become if you are the parent of an autistic child.  To others it seems like my life is in chaos where I exist as some sort of mad cross between exhausted college teacher, advocate and supermum (according to the others that is).  I think I thrive as this.  

My chaos has made me both extremely adaptable and the creator of a million small routines that turn the chaos into valuable outputs.  Valuable to me, my students and my kids. 

I've always been one for efficiency.  In business we teach a method of efficiency called Kaizen. It's a Japanese term which is about making many small improvements which add together to create large efficiencies. I get it.  Just like my million small routines, I often see life as a set of small steps.  Yes sometimes I change direction along the way, but that's another advantage of small steps - it's easier to change course.  However, this has really helped when I've been teaching.  Being able to break tasks down into their component parts.  It's like learning a dance, step by step, instead of all at once. 

This breaking down of tasks is one of the key ways to help kids, especially those who may have ADHD or autism to prepare for their exams.

As I teacher and lecturer, I've helped students prepare for assignments, assessments, GSCE's, A Levels and even years ago SATS.   Sitting down to several, two hour long exams the results of which seem to determine the rest of your life can seem simply insurmountable.  Especially if school wasn't really 'your thing'. 

But sitting down to do a 10 minute task, doesn't seem quite so bad.  Master that 10 minute task (as best to your ability) over a series of days and it can begin to seem less scary, possibly even easy.  Adding it to another 10 minute task you've already mastered doesn't seem as much of a struggle and before you know if you have nine, 10 minute tasks strung together and you've completed an exam. 

Most GCSE and college exams follow a similar format each year.  There are types of questions and there are sections.  One way to help a child prepare is to practice these different question styles or sections just one at a time.  Then each section can be tackled separately in the child's mind. 

Another way to take advantage of this technique is to break down the longer answer questions.  Many papers have a few long answer questions which they often suggest 'planning for'.  But a student can be supported in advance by having the format of the answer broken down. For example, several exams papers have questions that ask a student to justify their view on a subject.  This high mark question might actually be tackled using four shorter tasks:

1. Say which view you agree with

2. Say why you agree with this view

3. Say why you disagree with the other view

4. Confirm your choice but say what might change you mind.

Each of these steps can be practised in isolation and then put together for form an overall answer.  Most high mark answers will view the whole answer as one but this can be challenging some as it's a lot to both think about, process and record all in an exam.  Shorter tasks can help a child focus on one point at a time which can also help with the feeling of being overwhelmed. 

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