Starting in 2025, the University of California will no longer consider SAT and ACT scores in the admissions process. Hopefully other schools will follow suit until enough momentum builds for every college and university across the land to jump on this bandwagon. I was beside myself with joy upon hearing the news, recalling all of the difficult emotions the SAT experience provoked in me and how my lackluster score in no way reflected my intelligence, my capacity for academic achievement or my work ethic.
I was a hard-working high school student, diagnosed earlier in life with a learning disability but without any knowledge of my autism spectrum profile (I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome long after my grade school years). Because of the learning disability, I was given the option of taking the SAT untimed but declined the offer. And I paid the price. As I vividly recall, I didn’t come remotely close to finishing the verbal section, not because I got lazy or couldn’t handle the questions but because I simply ran out of time.
Many on the autism spectrum, including me, work relatively slowly, due largely to how information which is conveyed to us from the environment is processed. A reading or writing exercise which would take many who I know less than an hour to complete could very well take me several hours, maybe even all day. With respect to the SATs, it was the reading comprehension-related questions that did me in because of the time I needed to properly comprehend the stories in order to correctly answer the related questions. Given sufficient time, I would have finished the verbal section having invested the necessary time on the reading passages, no doubt resulting in a higher score.
I was one of the fortunate ones in that my sub-par verbal score (it fell below 500) didn’t keep me from getting accepted to my 1st choice school. Others for whom the SAT and ACT are not acceptable measures of academic aptitude and are not reliable predictors of collegiate success are not as lucky. I celebrate the University of California’s decision in consideration of all of those deserving students with higher educational aspirations, both autistic and non-autistic, whose chances of attending their preferred school would otherwise be rendered dead in the water.
The question you may be asking yourself at this point might be, “so why did he not take the SAT untimed, having been granted a golden opportunity to do so and knowing that he had a learning disability?” I had my reason, an understandable one, for rejecting the untimed option, though in hindsight, I know that it was the wrong reason. The short answer to the question is that I felt strongly that I should be evaluated on the same terms as my classmates. The long answer is a little more involved.
Self-esteem is a sore subject for many on the autism spectrum, and I was no exception during my high school years. I eventually learned, long after the fact, that a truly robust sense of self is an impossibility without self-acceptance, which I did not possess at the time. The day I learned that I could take the SAT with the clock turned off and then abruptly threw the opportunity away is a day that unfortunately has been burned into my memory cells and which I’d rather forget, mostly because of the intense frustration I felt when I was singled out in this fashion but also because I failed to advocate for my own best interests. I was so eager simply to be like everybody else and to not be granted any special privileges that would suggest that I was “different,” even though I was entitled to special accommodations because I did indeed have special needs. Had I previously learned to come to terms with being different and to accept who I was, I would have gladly, and wisely, taken the SAT untimed and reaped the benefits. But it was not in the cards. As a teenager on the autism spectrum who knew deep down that he was different, who didn’t want to be different and who was trying to get by in an essentially non-autistic world, that kind of self-acceptance inevitably was well out of reach.
If the University of California’s decision initiates a domino effect across a critical mass of other colleges and universities, many intelligent, capable autistic students everywhere with unique learning challenges who want to continue their education will thankfully face a greater likelihood of acceptance at their top choice school(s). Furthermore, autistic students given the untimed option who would make the unwise choice that I made and would have to deal with the fallout from that choice would now be spared of having to make a choice in the first place. Students who would wisely take the test untimed when offered the option would now be spared of the resentment, and maybe the bullying, which might be aimed at them as a result of being singled out and granted an enviable exemption.
And how about those students with learning differences who are unaware of their reality because they have not been given a diagnosis? They would be spared of the regrettable consequences of having to take a high stakes test, timed, as if they do not have any learning differences, and yet, they do. There are many among us on the autism spectrum, of all ages, who don’t yet know it and who may or may not find out later in life, by absolutely no fault of their own.
As such, I praise the University of California for choosing to render SAT and ACT scores irrelevant. There are many other admissions criteria which are not unfairly discriminatory and which matter just as much or more. Thankfully, my alma mater thought so, having accepted me early in spite of my scores, and I managed an overall GPA of around 3.3 at graduation. I know that I am not alone in appealing to other higher educational institutions to follow the University of California’s example and disregard these tests. Consider how much good this would do for autistic and other students with learning differences, all of whom deserve the same opportunities as all students.
Sam Farmer wears many hats, among them father, husband, musician, computer consultant and autism spectrum community contributor. Diagnosed later in life with Asperger’s syndrome, he writes blogs, records coaching videos and presents at conferences and support groups for the Asperger/Autism Network. To learn more, visit samfarmerauthor.com.
A Long Walk Down a Winding Road: Small Steps, Challenges, & Triumphs Through an Autistic Lens is available on Amazon and can be purchased at all major booksellers.