Autism Spectrum Disorders and Academic Misconduct

High schools, colleges, and educational institutions are allowed to devise their own rules and regulations concerning student behavior. They may compel students to follow these rules as a condition for being enrolled. Students with disabilities, such as autism, Asperger's, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) must also follow school rules; they are not exempt. However, schools are legally obligated to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities so that these students may have equal access to education.

Most colleges, universities, and high schools have an academic integrity or honor code policy that promotes honesty in all academic work. These academic codes of conduct typically do not address issues that may come up concerning students with ASD, unfortunately. Generally, schools fail to provide ASD students with the support they need during a disciplinary process, leading to hearings and sanctions that are unfair. All schools have a right to discipline their students, but they also have a responsibility to treat everyone fairly. Students with ASD are less likely to succeed in schools that don't recognize how disciplinary procedures and disability rights intersect. It can be a sensitive or challenging subject for schools to address, so many simply don't address it all.

If you are an ASD high school or college student accused of academic misconduct, you should take the matter very seriously. Your school certainly will. It's possible the supposed academic integrity violation involves your ASD and if it does, you should strongly consider contacting a student discipline legal specialist.

Academic Misconduct and Student Responsibility

If you have ASD, you are still subject to your school's academic code of conduct like every other student. It's your responsibility to read your school's academic integrity policy or honor code to understand what is expected of you as a student. In most cases, not claiming you didn't read or didn't know about a policy is not sufficient defense if you are accused of academic misconduct. If you don't understand the policy or have questions, you can seek out assistance from a guidance counselor in high school or the office of student affairs at colleges and universities.

Notifying Your School If You Have ASD

You do not have to notify your school about your ASD if you don't want to. In high school, it's likely a decision you and your parents make together because parents are entitled to be equal partners with their children's schools if their child has disabilities. In college, the decision to disclose your ASD is entirely up to you, as parents play a lesser role in education at this level and you will likely be 18 or older, making you a legal adult.

High schools and colleges must make reasonable accommodations for students with ASD. You will find that your university approaches these accommodations differently than your high school, however. High schools must follow the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and colleges abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

High Schools and K-12 Schools

Throughout their K-12 education, ASD students have access to an Individual Education Program (IEP) which allows teachers and parents to deliver specialized education to a student. The responsibility for identifying students who need an IEP falls on teachers and parents, and parents play an active role in their kids' education program as they are usually their legal guardians while the student is underage.

Colleges and Universities

College students have more responsibility than high school students, and students who need support for their disability usually must seek it out on their own. Students must learn to self-advocate and speak with their instructors if they have concerns about accommodations and academic integrity. Generally, universities have plenty of resources available for ASD students, but it's up to the student to reach out. Also, parents are far less involved in their children's education once they reach college. If you have ASD and you are applying for colleges, campus resources available for students with disabilities may factor into deciding which institution you choose.

Although you do not have to disclose to your university that you have ASD, you might consider doing it anyway. If you think you might need support or accommodations at any point in your college career, it's best if your university knows from the time you start classes. Also, if you are accused of academic misconduct and you haven't informed your college about your ASD, you may not be able to get the reasonable accommodations you need during the disciplinary process.

Examples of Academic Misconduct

Schools at all levels take academic dishonesty seriously, but the consequences tend to be the strictest at colleges and universities. For particularly egregious academic misconduct violations, a student could even get expelled.

Some common examples of academic misconduct at high schools and colleges are:

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Bribery
  • Dishonesty
  • Classroom disruption
  • Facilitating academic dishonesty
  • Falsification of data or academic records
  • Failing to safeguard work (letting someone else cheat off you)
  • Sabotaging another student's work
  • Obtaining advanced knowledge of a quiz, test, or exam
  • Research misconduct
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Unauthorized assistance on an academic exercise
  • Unauthorized collaboration on an academic exercise
  • Unauthorized giving or taking of academic materials
  • Violating ethics, honor codes, and professional standards
  • Violating exam conditions

This list is by no means exhaustive and you should check your school's honor code or academic integrity policy to see what types of behaviors will land you in trouble.

Typical Academic Misconduct Procedures

Most high schools and colleges have a policy in place to address situations when a student is accused of academic misconduct. Students may usually be accused by teachers and professors, other students, or administrators in some cases. High schools and colleges tend to differ in their approaches to academic misconduct allegations. The process in college may take longer, allowing students a chance to gather evidence or attend a hearing to defend their side of the story.

High School Procedures

Typically, a high school's academic integrity policy addresses the severity of the alleged misconduct and allows for appropriate responses. For example, some policies may give teachers the authority to handle violations directly if they are less serious. In these cases, the teacher might accuse the student of academic misconduct and impose a penalty such as re-doing an assignment or issuing a failing grade. The student may be given the chance to explain their actions and discuss the alleged misconduct with the teacher, or they may not.

For more serious allegations, a teacher might report the student to the principal or other administrator to get the student's parents involved. The school may arrange a conference between the principal, the student, and the student's parents or guardians to discuss the supposed violation and what should be done. At this conference, students may have a chance to defend themselves.

If a high school wants to impose a long-term absence from school on a student, they must guarantee due process, which includes the student's right to know why they may be forced to take an absence from school and the chance to defend the charges against them. This usually takes the form of a hearing. Some schools allow students to have an advisor or attorney with them at the hearing, others do not.

Once the matter has been decided and if a student is found responsible for the academic misconduct, the school imposes sanctions. High schools typically do not provide an option to appeal a decision regarding academic misconduct.

College Procedures

Most colleges and universities have a formal procedure for dealing with allegations of academic misconduct. Many involve a hearing but some let individual departments handle suspected violations and the imposition of sanctions.

Typically, after you are accused, you may have to meet with an administrator or the professor who accused you. This meeting could be a chance for you to provide a statement regarding the allegation or simply the opportunity for you to hear which rules you have supposedly violated.

Following this meeting, there may be an investigation, during which someone from the university attempts to gather information about the allegation and about you. This investigator may try to speak with you, your friends, your professors, and may be given access to your academic record.

After the investigation, there will likely be a hearing. At the hearing, you may be able to call witnesses to testify about the incident, as well as present your own evidence to defend yourself. Some universities allow students to have an external advisor or attorney present for the hearing. There is usually a panel of students or faculty and staff members who listen to arguments at the hearing and then vote as to whether you are responsible for the violation or not.

After the decision is made, the school will impose sanctions if you are guilty of violating the academic code of conduct. At this stage, you may be able to appeal the decision and have a university administrator review the case.

Reasonable Accommodations During the Disciplinary Process

All schools should make reasonable accommodations available to students with disabilities who are involved in a disciplinary process. At colleges and universities, some of the most common accommodations include:

  • Allowing accused ASD students to have a counselor or personal assistant with them at hearings or meetings even if the policy normally prohibits it
  • Pausing the hearing or meeting at any time to give the ASD student a short break
  • Allowing the accused ASD student to provide written testimony rather than an oral statement

Some universities make an effort to reach out to students during an academic integrity process, to ask if they need accommodations. Not all schools do, however, and as a college student, you are considered an autonomous adult. If you need a reasonable accommodation, you should take an active role in procuring it and ask.

Students with ASD and Academic Misconduct

Education institutions must provide equal access to education programs to students with disabilities per IDEA or the ADA, but balancing reasonable accommodations with academic integrity concerns can be tricky. Additionally, some high schools and colleges fail to guarantee students with ASD their rights to due process in academic misconduct cases.

If someone at your school accuses you of academic misconduct, your school can take disciplinary action. Some schools include a formal hearing as part of the academic integrity violation process, others simply require students to meet with a teacher or instructor to resolve the matter. High schools, colleges, and universities can provide disability accommodations in the classroom to put ASD students in a better position to succeed. These accommodations might be letting students tape-record lectures, giving students extra time to finish exams, or letting students take exams in rooms with fewer distractions.

Academic Misconduct Issues for Students with ASD

ASD affects communication and learning skills, which may limit a student's ability to read social cues or distinguish between wanted and unwanted attention. As a result, ASD students may struggle to detect dishonesty or follow the rules fastidiously. These sorts of traits wouldn't seem to make ASD students prone to cheating or plagiarism, but they can still experience issues with academic misconduct

A student on the autism spectrum might get accused of disruptive classroom behavior if they frequently interrupt the instructor. Another possible scenario is if one student is cheating and lies to an ASD student about it and the ASD student doesn't realize they're lying. The ASD student could then be accused of facilitating academic misconduct, which most schools take just as seriously as committing academic dishonesty itself. As long as an ASD student is at risk of misunderstanding or miscommunicating with an instructor or their fellow students, there's always a chance that they could be accused of an academic integrity violation.

Academic Misconduct and ASD Students at the High School Level

Most high schools have an academic misconduct policy that prohibits cheating, plagiarism, and other types of academic misconduct mentioned above. Some schools set their own guidelines and others may have to adopt policies from the district or the county. You'll find the honor code or academic integrity policy in the student handbook, which students and parents are responsible for reading. In addition to listing which behaviors are prohibited, the policy may also explain penalties for academic misconduct. Common penalties include:

  • Re-doing an assignment
  • Assigning a failing grade on an assignment, quiz, or test
  • A conference between the student, their parents, and the principal
  • Disqualification from extracurricular activities
  • Academic dishonesty notation on the student's permanent record
  • Suspension
  • Expulsion

The repercussions for academic dishonesty at the high school level can go well beyond the punishments listed above. If your school finds you responsible for committing an academic integrity violation, it will go on your high school transcripts and universities will see it. It could prevent you from obtaining college scholarships or being admitted to your chosen college.

Does Your High School's Academic Code of Conduct Mention Students with Disabilities?

It's common for high school academic dishonesty policies to include ambiguous language when defining academic misconduct. Phrases such as “includes but is not limited to…” or “up to the classroom teacher's or administrator's discretion” leave room for interpretation. Ambiguity and interpretation usually don't work in ASD students' favor.

In many cases, teachers and administrators can determine if an incident is academic dishonesty and may take punitive actions to remedy it. This usually doesn't leave students with the chance to properly defend themselves. Unless the student's forced long-term absence from school is at risk, such as in the case of suspension or expulsion, the student has no constitutional right to due process. A simple classroom misunderstanding between an ASD student in their teacher can spiral into a harsh penalty for the student.

High school academic integrity policies tend to be vague and usually don't have provisions for students with disabilities. Some specialized education programs that ASD students take part in may have policies to address academic misconduct. Whether in a specialized program or not, however, teachers still have a great deal of authority to accuse and punish students for academic dishonesty.

If you are an ASD student in high school and you have been accused of academic misconduct, consider contacting a specialized student defense attorney to help you through the situation. Your school may not afford you a hearing for the allegation but working with an attorney is still useful, as they can coach you and your parents on what to say and help you prepare a defense.

Examples of Accommodations for ASD Students at the College Level

Students with ASD may be able to receive accommodations in the classroom that would typically go against a university's academic integrity policy. For this reason, it's essential that you ask for these accommodations if you think you will need them because if you don't, it may appear to your professors that you are not being academically honest.

Typical accommodations for students on the autism spectrum in college include:

  • Providing the instructor's lecture notes
  • Allowing students more time to provide verbal responses in class
  • Letting students take a short break during class
  • Allowing students to wear hats, sunglasses, tinted glasses, earplugs, or earphones to help deal with sensory issues
  • Providing a computer for students to complete tests or assignments rather than a written exercise
  • Giving students extensions on their assignments and exams
  • Creating “sub-deadlines” for assignments to make them more manageable

Responding to Academic Misconduct Allegations as a Student with ASD

If you are accused of academic misconduct by your school, you should realize that you have a lot at stake. The sanctions for having violated the academic integrity code could be loss of course credit, forfeiture of scholarships or financial aid, academic probation, suspension, or even expulsion. If, after receiving the accusation, you have not notified your school about your ASD, you should contact your campus disability services as soon as possible. You may want to request reasonable accommodations during the disciplinary process or feel that your ASD was implicated in the accusation.

After you've contacted disability services, the next thing you should do is refrain from talking to anyone else at your school about the accusation. Wait until you and your parents have some guidance on the matter from a student defense attorney. To have a chance at clearing the academic misconduct charge, you should stick to your school's formal procedures as closely as possible. Do not attempt to confront your professor or accuser yourself, as any statement you make could be used against you during an administrative hearing later.

Defense Against University and High School Academic Misconduct Charges for ASD Students

Being accused of academic dishonesty is an uncomfortable and possibly scary experience. If dealing with an academic misconduct allegation is new territory for you, navigating your school's disciplinary procedures can be challenging. Unfortunately, in these kinds of situations, things can quickly go wrong. ASD students might be more likely to be accused of academic misconduct than their peers without ASD and the school administration may not have the training or experience to deal with disciplinary matters involving students with mental health disorders or disabilities.

By hiring a student discipline defense attorney, you give yourself a better chance of defending your rights against your school. A legal specialist can help you read through your school's policies to ensure your school is following them. They can also prepare you for a hearing if there is one, and may even be able to accompany you to your hearing. As a student on the autism spectrum, you have the right to reasonable accommodations from your school. If you do not get them, you can and should take action. A student defense attorney can help you hold your school to account.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped high school and college students across the country with academic misconduct issues. He has the knowledge and experience necessary to guide you through the process and help you defend your rights. If you want to ensure your equal treatment while getting an education, contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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