My son’s friends think he’s “cheating” because he gets extra time on tests. What should I do?
One of my favorite sayings is “Fair is not equal.” It would be pretty silly if treating people equally meant treating everyone the same way—if one person wears glasses, should everyone wear glasses? No. Fair is giving people what they need.
I know from my work with families how frustrating it can be when people don’t understand the need for extra time on tests and other common accommodations for students with learning and thinking differences. Nobody questions the use of accommodations for people with physical impairments, such as providing glasses to a student who has trouble seeing or providing a wheelchair to someone who has trouble walking. But some people have trouble believing that someone needs extra time on tests.
Some of the comments your son is hearing from his friends may come from jealousy. Not many people are jealous of glasses or wheelchairs. But many kids would love to have extra time on a test—particularly if they’re stressed for time themselves. This is especially true for high-stakes tests like the SAT or ACT.
And some of the comments your son is hearing may be the result of misunderstanding. His friends might not know that smart people can have trouble processing information. Needing glasses or a wheelchair can be easier to understand because it’s easier to see “evidence” of those kinds of problems.
The first step in addressing the issue your son is having with his friends is for you to talk with your child. Make sure he understands why he needs the extra time on tests. Discuss the impact his learning and thinking differences have on other areas of his life, such as how much time it takes him to complete his homework or finish a project. Talk about how having a learning or thinking difference often means he has to work harder in order to show what he knows.
Then make sure he understands that in order to get extra time on the SAT and other tests, a doctor had to determine that he needs extra time—just like an optometrist determines whether someone needs glasses.
The next step is to help your child practice explaining this to his friends. Look for ways to help him avoid sounding defensive. You may want to suggest something like:
“Hey guys, I know you’d like extra time on the tests too, but my [learning disability or other issue] makes it take me a lot longer to show what I know. Believe me, it’s not easy. Remember all those times I couldn’t go out because I had to finish my work? That’s because doing school stuff in general takes me a lot longer.”
“If I don’t get the extra time on tests, it’s kind of like asking someone who needs glasses to take the test without them.”
“A doctor tested me and said I need extra time. I’m still racing to finish even with this extra time. The doctor has a way of figuring out what the right amount of time is for me so that I have the same time pressure you guys do.”
The truth is that in many ways, kids understand the concept of “fair is not equal”—sometimes kids understand a whole lot better than other parents do. If these kids are really your son’s friends and they’ve watched him struggle in school, they’ll probably understand why he needs to have extra time if he explains it to them.