The Power of Autonomy and Awareness

Here’s another quick success tip to pass along to your college student or college bound student. 

Just to give you some background, there were a few stories that I told every student I met with. These stories were examples from other students who had made similar decisions which led to more academic problems, anxiety, and stress. 

Here is another of those stories. It’s from an actual student many years ago. I used this student’s story because this student’s mindset was common. I try and inform students as best I can, so they are informed of the potential consequences of their decision so they can avoid the negative consequences. It’s an ounce of prevention.

We will call this student Susan. Susan came in as a freshman and received her accommodations. The spring semester she came back in for her accommodation letters and I, as usual, asked how her grades were and if she used her accommodations. 

What she said had me concerned. She said she would wait to use her accommodations until after the first test was over, for every class! 

When I asked about how this impacted her grades and mental well-being, she stated she had to make up for the lost points by doing better on subsequent tests, which made her anxiety go up, lost sleep, and felt bad about her confidence as a student. 

I told her that she was her own worst enemy. She didn’t get what I was hinting at. So, I explained that she had the freedom to make the choice of when to use her accommodations, but her choice came at a pretty high cost, AND it could be avoided. 

I laid out a different scenario for this semester: use the accommodations for every test, for every class. 

She took a long pause and thought. She teared up and told me she was trying to exert her autonomy as she had to follow what others told her in high school and her IEP. She admitted not realizing the impact as she was so focused on doing her own plan. 

I emphasized that she could make her own decision and I would respect it, but she would need to decide if the consequence was worth it. So, we spent some time talking about the negative impact of her decision and what would happen if she chose to just use her accommodations for every test this semester. It’s just one semester, and she could decide at any time to make a different choice.

She expressed that she did not want to needlessly feel the pressure, anxiety, loss of sleep, and especially to her confidence, and was not socializing with friends as much due to studying more. She initially said she would think about my suggestion.

I was thinking I would have to wait a whole semester to know what she decided. Mid-semester, I found out. She sent me an email telling me that she was using her accommodations for every test; her grades were much better, her confidence was up, less pressure and stress, socializing more, having more fun, and that using her accommodations for every test was worth it. I was happy for her.

I used this example with other students to emphasize a few concepts worth noting. First, autonomy should always be respected. It was her choice, not mine. Second, if you are going to make a choice, know the options and consequences of each. An informed decision is a better decision and leads to more self-determination. Third, not using accommodations has an impact more profound than just on grades. The mental and emotional impact can be debilitating.

I hope your student thinks of the consequences of their decision to use or not use their accommodations. Go into it with both eyes wide open. Awareness can change everything.

If your student needs help becoming more self-aware of the impact of their disability, check out the Parent Coaching Series.