School Testing
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Autism Reveals Problems in How We Measure Success

May 14, 2015
Ideas
Susan S. LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo (ex-ACK-wee-o), which helps organizations build cultures, create employer brands and develop talent strategies using a data-driven approach. Susan has an MBA (Vanderbilt University), an MA in HR Development (The George Washington University) and a BA in Communications (Virginia Tech). She has also written two books: The Right Job, Right Now (St. Martin's Press) and Vault Guide to Human Resources Careers.

Eight-year-old Charlie has an infectious smile. He loves swimming, hiking, and skiing. And he’s smart, too. By the age of 2, he knew every letter, color, shape, and number. “He loved books and wanted us to read to him for hours,” his mom Tricia said.

A year later, Charlie was diagnosed with regressive autism. He struggled with motor skills and motor planning, and a school psychology test—a largely motor-based evaluation—labeled Charlie with an intellectual disability.

We have a bias in making collective assumptions about people. Whether it’s disability, age, or simply lack of experience, we rely on the tests and evaluations simply because that’s the process. We allow these tests to make decisions for us without considering the individual as a person. These decisions often affect how they do later in life. For example, from academic requirements to industry experience, companies put limits on people who could excel in jobs before the candidates are even evaluated.

Sometimes the assumptions we make about the capabilities people have are wrong. What if we gave people a chance to show their value and ability in different ways? Charlie's story is an example of what we might be missing if we don't.

A few months ago, Charlie and his mom sit in front of a letter board. She’s just finished reading him the first chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird, and they begin to discuss the book. (According to Reading Is Fundamental, most children don’t even begin to attempt to read until ages 3 to 4, and Scholastic cites To Kill a Mockingbird at the 8th grade reading level.) Since Charlie doesn’t speak, he points out his answers letter by letter on the board.

What do you think about Scout talking about how she doesn't really know how she learned to read, it just came to her at an early age?

SO LIKE ME SHE TAUGHT HERSELF TO READ ONE LETTER AT A TIME. I WAS READING STORIES TO MYSELF TOO VERY EARLY. I YEARNED TO OPEN YOUR TOY TO READ.

What toy?

IPAD.

Job seekers often get the response, “Sorry, you don’t match our requirements,” usually because it’s safe. It’s risky to hire someone who doesn’t match the requirements exactly. And it's hard to take a chance or find other evaluative ways to determine if someone is a fit for a role. But some recruiters buck that trend. And when they do, they often find a Charlie in the mix.

Pete Radloff, a recruiter for comScore, was hiring for a data analysis role and took a chance on a candidate who didn't have a strong resume, but had poise and fit with the company's culture. Eight years later, that candidate is now an integral part of a team and has played a key role in developing many of the company’s flagship products. An exception to the rule? Hardly. Dozens of recruiters shared tales with me about chances they took that paid off big time.

Sure there’s the legal factor in hiring: You have to set a baseline for hiring and document why a candidate is chosen. But a laundry list of requirements with no exceptions means missing out on candidates who might be the best fit for the job. When we make assumptions about what people can’t do, we don’t give them a chance to show what they can.

Back home in Virginia, Charlie’s mom dances around the family room with her three kids.

Charlie, is mommy a good dancer?’

NOT REALLY TO ME.

Are you a good dancer?

YES.

When you take a chance on someone and let him perform, the results might surprise you.

You can see Charlie using his letter board and demonstrating the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) here. (Video shared with permission of Patricia Taylor.)


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