The answer depends in part on the type of special needs your child has. Learning disabilities range in severity levels and, thus accommodations based on individual student needs.
Your first step is to work with your Case Manager or Special Education/Exceptional Education Department at your high school. College Board, who oversees administration of the SAT and all accommodations, is going to ask for a formal request with documentation from your school.
Begin this process early because at peak times it can take 6-10 weeks to process a request.
The first thing the College Board looks at is: Does this child receive some type of modification to their regular testing at school? Students who do not have any accommodations or modifications at school should not expect to receive any on the SAT. But just because your child has testing adjustments at school does not mean he will qualify for modified testing on the SAT.
College Board’s next question is: What accommodations can or should he have? Again, this really depends. The most common modifications I saw as a school counselor was extended time.
Some people think: Oh, wow. That’s going to be great and he could really use some extra time. Maybe I should try to get my child qualified for extra time. Keep in mind, extra time can be a curse rather than a blessing. The SAT is a 4-hour long exam. Some students who are receiving 50% extra time have taken a 4-hour exam and made it a 6-hour exam plus additional time for breaks. A lot of my students with attention and focus issues have a really hard time sitting there for 4 hours; 6 hours is impossible. The extra time hurts their ability to perform on the test.
I’ve seen a variety of modifications and can’t suggest what your son should have without understanding his learning issues. I had a student with severe arthritis who couldn’t bubble in her own answers because it was such a physical strain. I’ve had other students who have had individual testing. While they may be allowed extended time they’re also in an individual setting where it becomes a little more of a self-paced extended time exam. Other students need large print tests. Your son’s accommodations will be based on his needs.
Keep in mind the SAT is intended to be a challenging test and accommodations should help put him on a level playing field with other test takers. They are not intended to improve his score or give him an advantage.
My best advice is to start the process early. Talk with your Special Education Coordinator or your Exceptional Education Department at school to find out what type of modifications might be most appropriate and most helpful. Get approved by College Board before his junior year in case there are any problems that require additional documentation or explanation.
If you have questions, you can contact College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office directly. I have always found them to be very knowledgeable and helpful.
Finally, I have found many special needs students score better on the ACT, so encourage your son to take both tests. And your college search should focus on schools where your son will thrive academically. There are many colleges and universities with programs designed to help students with special needs. Getting right at this stage of education makes it simpler at the other end of the scale.