Testing Accommodations For Students With Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

If your child with sensory processing disorder and/or autism has an IEP (individual education plan) or a 504 plan, it may include accommodations for test taking to make it easier for him to do his best given his underlying issues and any learning disabilities he has. Think of testing accommodations like glasses for someone who is nearsighted and can’t read the blackboard: You can’t get a clear picture of what that child understands if he can’t see the problems and questions written on the board. And the “prescription,” that is, the school sensory diet and accommodations, will have to fit the individual child.

If your sensory child is distracted by his sensory issues when he is taking the test, the results won’t accurately reflect his knowledge. For example, a child with auditory issues may not be able to focus in a classroom filled with children because of the background noise that 23 children create-he might need to be in a room with fewer children, and at a separate table.

Sometimes, accommodations for the child with sensory processing issues don’t have to be formalized into a 504 plan or an IEP if the teacher and others helping in the testing process are willing to consistently provide them for your child. There are many sensory aspects of the environment and the test-taking experience to consider. Pay attention to ambient sound as well as seating and lighting. Ask the child if he has difficulty focusing in particularly bright light, or under fluorescent lighting. As for sitting, an inflatable cushion on his chair, or a ball chair, may help him stay focused by providing needed proprioceptive (body awareness) and vestibular (movement) input. Sitting for long stretches may cause his mind to wander, more so than with a child who doesn’t have sensory needs, and the movement these cushions and chairs provide can help a lot.

If your child has difficulty with handwriting, and grips pencils so tightly that his hand cramps and the point breaks, or so lightly that he is constantly dropping them and his marks are too light, he may need to do testing using a keyboard or with an aide to assist in filling in the circles. Hand exercises before writing can prevent hand cramping. Your school district’s occupational therapist may be able to provide pencil grips, often sold in office supply stores as well as in therapy catalogues, for your child to use. (If your child does not get OT for handwriting issues that are interfering with his writing, consider formally requesting an evaluation, in writing.)

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