Learning Disabilities and Extra Time
Learning Disabilities, Extra Time, Special Accommodations, and the SAT and ACT
If your child has a learning disability, psychological disorder, or physical disability, you should get him extra time and accommodations. This isn’t a recommendation; it is a requirement. If your child does not have any of the above conditions, then move on – this guide isn’t for you (instead, check out our guide on picking the right prep system and learn the importance of getting started as soon as you can!).
The SAT and ACT have nothing to do with your intelligence – they simply test how good you are at taking the SAT or ACT. But these tests are almost custom-tailored to be difficult for students with learning disabilities, which is part of the reason why they get their bad reputation. If your child has any learning disability or physical impairment, he should apply for extra time and accommodations to level the playing field.
Before we get into the details, there are two things you need to know:
1. College admissions committees will not know that your child received extra time/ accommodations. Due to the Americans With Disabilities Act, they are prohibited from knowing or asking. So, on a college admissions level, there is only upside, no downside.
2. There is nothing wrong with getting extra time. I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve spoken to who think that there’s “something dishonest” about getting their children extra time and other accommodations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let me state it as simply as possible:
If your child DOES NOT HAVE learning, psychological, or physical disabilities, and you apply for special accommodations, it’s despicable. But if your child DOES have any of these things, it is irresponsible, unfair, and foolish for you NOT to get extra accommodations.
The SAT or ACT, “un-leveled,” are very hard for students with learning disabilities. Let me share two quick stories with you to emphasize how important it is that you seek the appropriate level of assistance for your child.
A) I once taught a student with moderate to severe dyslexia. He was incredibly bright – he understood difficult concepts in seconds, had incredible logical reasoning abilities, and developed a fantastic vocabulary. But his on-page reading skills suffered due to his disability. In short, it took him a while to read passages. His mother, fearing that she would make him feel “handicapped” if she asked for special accommodations, refused to get him extra time and other help for his dyslexia. As a result, he scored a 310 on his Critical Reading section. Out of 800. Do you think he felt handicapped?
His father, taking matters into his own hands, went through hell and high water at the last minute, under incredible time pressure, to get him the special accommodations he needed. When he took the test again, months later, he scored a 680 on his Critical Reading section. But for the months leading up to his 680, I’ve never dealt with a more discouraged or heartbroken student in my entire career.
B) I once worked with a girl who had very bad ADHD. Smart as a whip, creative, perceptive, but she couldn’t sit still. She would drift, and as a result, it took her longer than most of my students to complete the sections that didn’t engage her. She was interested in math, and hence her math scores were high and she always finished on time. But she hated grammar, and thus her Writing scores were very low. When I worked with her during sessions, and we spent 40-45 minutes on a Writing section, she could get 33/35 questions right. But when she was under time pressure, on her own, she’d only be able to complete about half the problems before time ran out.
This story doesn’t have the happy ending that the first one did. Her mother and father refused to believe that she had ADHD, although it was clear from her behavior and academic performance that she did (in case you’re wondering, one of the clearest signs of ADD is incredibly high grades in the areas in which your student is interested, and abysmal grades in the areas in which she is not). No extra time, no special accommodations, nothing. So while I brought her math score from a 620 to a 750, her Writing score went from a 470 to a 510, even though she was blatantly capable of getting a perfect Writing score and had all the requisite grammatical knowledge. Totally unacceptable.
It is your duty as a parent to get your child as many advantages as you possibly can.
With that in mind, let’s go over which disabilities qualify, what types of extra help you can get, how you can diagnose these issues, and how to apply for these special accommodations.
What types of special help and accommodations can you get?
You can find a very comprehensive list of all special accommodations for the SAT on the College Board website using the following link:
For the ACT, review the information at this site:
The most common types of special accommodations include, but are not limited to:
-Extended time, which adds 50% to 100% of the time usually given for these tests
-Computer usage, for students who have trouble writing
-Accommodations for students with reading impairments and disabilities, including someone to read the tests out loud for them
-Accommodations for students with hearing impairments, such as someone to give them test directions in sign language
-Extra and extended breaks
-Special testing spaces, such as private rooms for students with severe ADHD, or screens to block out distractions
There are many more accommodations than these, but the above list represents the vast majority of what most people request.
What types of disabilities qualify for extra time and special accommodations?
Many different learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities qualify for special accommodations.
To figure out if your child is eligible, use this page for the SAT:
This is the link for the ACT:
Who can you speak to in order to simplify the process?
Almost all schools, public and private, have a Services for Students with Disabilities department. You should talk to your SSD Coordinator as soon as possible to set up a meeting and figure out whether or not your child qualifies. Online forms are great, but speaking to a trained, professional expert is much better.
GET STARTED NOW. NOT TOMORROW, BUT NOW.
If you want to get your child special accommodations, you need to do so as early as imaginably possible. While the deadline for special accommodations is technically only four weeks prior to the test date, the process takes much longer than that. The reason is because documentation is everything.
If you don’t have your child’s disabilities documented, you will not be able to get these special accommodations. And setting up appointments, running tests, and getting results takes a lot of time. Also, the ACT is notoriously stubborn about special accommodations. The SAT doesn’t make things easy, but the ACT will really put you through a song and dance. If you don’t start early, and if you don’t have all your ducks in a row, you don’t stand a chance of getting these accommodations – even when you blatantly need them.
The first step in getting accommodations for any disorder is documenting the disorder in an official context. You should get started with this process immediately.
How do I actually apply for the extra accommodations?
You do that here for the SAT:
And for the ACT, the link is:
The easiest way to do this is to work with your school’s SSD Coordinator to make sure you do everything correctly. This is a process that can be done on your own, but if you can get help, you should. It’s much easier to navigate these waters when you have a professional on your side.
Between the websites I’ve provided and your school’s Services for Students With Disabilities Coordinator, you should have everything you need to get extra accommodations for your child. I just want to make it clear once again that these special accommodations are not a “cop out,” nor are they “unfair.” They’re just a way of leveling the playing field and of making sure that your child has the most opportunities possible for his or her future.
If your child feels strange about these accommodations, let him know that they’re just advantages that he is entitled to receive. The SAT and ACT are not intelligence or aptitude tests – they are bizarre, hyper-specific exams that only test one thing: how good you are at taking them. Special accommodations make you better at taking them, so why not?
Now that you’ve worked through our entire “for parents” section, it’s time to get started! A few suggestions for your further reading:
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