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Essays & Exams

It is not uncommon for autistic people to have a perfectionist streak when it comes to studying. This feeling can be intensified if they are studying a subject they’ve a passion for. When dealing with results, emotions are high in any event whether the person has done well or not. 

It can be hard to know how to help or offer your support during this time, but half the battle is letting them know you’re there for them when they need you. 

Don’t be overly critical

No one likes to be criticised, least of all whenever we’ve done less than well at something we hoped we’d excel in. This is will be an emotional time for everyone at home and your child may be especially upset over their results.

Autistic people can become hugely passionate about a particular subject and a perfectionist streak when studying is a common behaviour. If they have performed below expectations, whether their own or other people’s, then it’s crucial for you to be on hand to tackle negative and pessimistic thoughts from developing. Most teenagers take exams seriously and autistic ones are no exception. Their anxiety leading up to and after they receive their results will be high and probing mistakes that they can’t immediately correct will likely only make them feel far worse.

Focus on the present on results day and the days immediately after. Don’t dwell on what went wrong, even you believe your child could have done better. Instead, focus how you can move forward together by exploring what options are available.

Be constructive, not obstructive

Postmortems of what wrong in exams are generally not the best thing to do on results day and the immediate aftermath.

If you do, however, feel strongly about addressing a particular problem related to your child’s results, then do so as calmly as you can. Don’t be confrontational. You may feel angry and even hurt by your child’s results, but starting the conversation off on a negative tone will unlikely end well. At the end of the day, this is about your child’s future and wellbeing, not yours.

Broach the subject carefully. Pick your moment(s) and try not to raise your voice.

Keep them grounded and reassured

For many teenagers, the fear of disappointing parents with results far outweighs the fear of not doing well. It is important to be mindful of your response or reaction if your child has not done as well as they had hoped. Try to remove your own feelings from the situation, and instead ask them how they feel about their results. Whether they are happy or unhappy, reassure them that you are there to support them, and will help them with whatever the next step may be.

Have the family prepared

Ensuring that the family environment is understanding and supportive of your child on results day and afterwards is crucial for their well-being, particularly if they did not meet their own expectations.

Addressing a situation where a child is upset over their results as a united front is an excellent way of reassuring and calming them. In this instance, designate roles for everyone in the family so that it can be a coordinated approach emphaisising the same message. If your child has a particularly close relationship with an extended family member, like an aunt, a cousin or a grandparent, by all means include this person however you can.

If they’ve elder siblings who did better in similar exams than they did, make sure that the siblings understand how your autistic child is feeling. Ask them to be compassionate and, if possible, have a conversation about what other options are available. If your autistic child doesn’t wish to discuss their results with their other family members at all, respect their wishes and don’t broach the subject further until they say otherwise.

Equally, if your child has done well, remind them about the importance of being polite and sympathetic to those who didn’t get similar result. Discourage them from gloating behaviours and explain the other person’s situation to them as an exercise in social awareness and interaction.

What options are available?

There will be several different pathways you and your child can take at this point. Remember, no matter what results your child has scored, there will always be options for them to move on to something from here. It’s important that you both have an honest and open conversation about where you want to go and how can it be done.

Repeating final year at school

If your child wishes to repeat their final year of school, make an appointment with their school’s SENO/SENCO to ensure whether this is possible. If it is, then re-evaluate – where your child’s supports strong enough? Could they have been availing of a different mode that would have been more helpful? Can they change their choices? They may wish to make changes in their choice of subjects and concentrate on ones they are more certain they can do better in.

Securing support at college

If your child has been accepted into any of their choices, the first step is researching each of their Disability Services. Ask yourself key questions: can they meet your child’s needs? What kinds of support do they offer? Are they accessible through the DARE or HEAR schemes? Do they have a pastoral as well as academic stream of services for their students with disabilities?

Once your child has made their decision of where they’d like to go, set up a meeting with the college’s Disability Services as soon as possible. There, you’ll all be able to discuss strategies and supports designed to help your child throughout their time at college. Ideally, try to see if you and your child can go to this appointment together.

If higher education is not a possibility, for whatever the reason, further education at an Institute of Technology or community college is another option. Your child may feel more comfortable studying their preferred course here, or they might wish to pursue a trade or apprenticeship and go into work right after. In any case, then checking out if any are accessible through the DARE/HEAR schemes and reaching out to their respective Disability Services is just as important.

Looking for work

Your child may not wish to go into further or higher education, either at the moment or at all. While it’s important that they make an informed choice on this important step and you can help them research it, it’s equally vital that you respect their final decision. If they would prefer to go into work after school, then make a plan to develop a CV and a list of their strengths to match with future job fits. Reaching out to the Irish Association for Supported Employment is an ideal way for you and your child to begin this journey.

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