College and University Accommodations for ADHD Students

ADHD University Students
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Student accommodations are designed to support students with learning challenges so they can achieve their academic potential. Accommodations help ADHD students both in how they acquire information, for example in class, and how they demonstrate their knowledge in exam situations. Accommodations are intended to act as an equalizer between students, so that if you have ADHD you're not at a disadvantage academically.

There's no reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed about receiving accommodations. Providing these accommodations were shown to be helpful for ADHD students:

How Information Is Presented

  • Written instructions (rather just verbal)
  • Help with reading assignments
  • Ability to record the lectures (and be loaned recording equipment if needed)
  • A note taker who writes the class notes

Setting

  • Sit exams in a quiet location

Timing

  • Extra time when sitting exams. The standard is time and half, although some students are eligible for longer.
  • Extra time to finish assignments
  • Reduced course load. For example, you could be a part-time student and still get the benefits of being a full-time student.

Advanced course selection 

Picking your courses before other students means you can select classes at the time of day where it is easiest for you to learn. You can also pick your preferred teachers. Both of these options can help your grades.

Do I Need Accommodations?

Many students with ADHD are reluctant to ask for accommodations. Here are some common reasons why.

  • You don’t want to be different from your friends.
  • Having accommodations would feel like cheating and put you at an unfair advantage.
  • You do not feel that you deserve them.
  • You do not want to be labeled as someone with a disability.
  • You feel overwhelmed at the thought of setting up the accommodations.

Remember, accommodations were created to help students just like you. Rather than putting you at an unfair advantage, they ‘even the playing field’ so you are on equal footing with your peers. This is not cheating! Colleges and universities have a vetting process to make sure only students with studying challenges are given accommodations. If organizing accommodations feels overwhelming, ask for help. A parent, tutor, organized friend or even a member of staff at the Office for Student Disabilities Service could help guide you through this process.

Students that have had accommodations in high school tend to be more inclined to have accommodations as soon as they reach college. They have already experienced the benefits first hand and know how helpful they are to their success.

Some ADHD students were able to get good grades in high school without accommodations. When they reach university, where the volume of material to study increases and the academic standard is higher, they realize they would benefit from some additional support.

This might not happen until the second semester or even the second year.

What Are the Benefits of Having Accommodations?

  • You are able to get the grades you know are capable of.
  • It helps your self-esteem. The grades you get are a more accurate reflection of the hard work you are putting into your studies.
  • Your college experience is less stressful and more enjoyable.
  • With improved grades you have more options after graduation, including taking a post graduate program.
  • If you have accommodations in college, you are also eligible for them when you take admission exams for professional schools, for example LSAT or MCAT, or for graduate schools, for example GRE or GMAT.

Whenever you learn about a topic, you feel empowered, less overwhelmed and more likely to take action. I asked Stephanie Moulton Sarkis some ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ about accommodations for ADHD students.  Dr Sarkis  is the author of 5 books about ADHD including “Making the Grade with A+DD: A student's Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder."

How Does an ADHD Student Get Accommodations in College?

When you first get accepted to a college or university, visit their website. Find the webpage for 'Office for Student Disabilities Service' and start to initiate the accommodation process. Tell them about your ADHD diagnosis and request student accommodations.

The Office for Student Disabilities will then explain what information they need from you. Each school requirements are slightly different. However, typically they ask for a letter from a licensed clinic on letterhead paper, stating your diagnosis, how they arrived at the diagnosis and the date they saw you.

There has been an important development regarding the information you need to provide. Previously, your test needed to have been carried out in the last 5 years. This is no longer the case. It can have been carried out at any time in your life if it meets the offices criteria.

If you had a 504 in high school, you could include a copy of that plan too.

What Happens Next?

Once the administration work has been completed, you will be contacted by the Office for Student Disabilities and have an appointment with a member of their staff. They will let you know what accommodations you are entitled to. At some colleges the Office for Student Disabilities will contact your professors to let them know about your accommodations. Other colleges will give you a letter detailing your accommodations. Then you can show the letter to each of your professors at the start of the semester, either after class or during office hours. Most professors are familiar with how accommodations work; however, if they have any questions, either you or the Office for Student Disabilities can answer them.

What Accommodations Do I Need?

If you have had accommodations in high school, then you will be familiar with what accommodations are helpful to you. If accommodations are new to you, it might be harder to know which ones will help you. Accept all the accommodations that are offered to you, even if you do not use them. This is because it can take a long time to add accommodations.

What Happens If My Request for Accommodations Is Rejected?

If your request is denied for any reason, you can appeal. Often a rejection is because the Office for Student Disabilities requires additional information. Once you have provided the information, the accommodations can be approved.

If you need to take the further action, contact the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) They are the organization responsible for overseeing the accommodation process. However, it is always simpler if you can talk to the school first.

If I Have Accommodations in College, Will This Go Against Me in My Career?

Schools are not allowed to disclose confidential information about you. There are strict laws about this.

What If I Go to Private School?

Any universities receiving a PAL grant must follow The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is a civil rights law that stops discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of life, including schools.

What Happens If I Change My Mind and Want Accommodations After All?

Even if you did not apply for accommodations when you first enrolled in school, it is not a problem. You can apply at any time. The only downside is that the review process takes time to be processed and during this time, you will still be studying and getting grades.

Any Other Advice for ADHD Students?

Join a support group and meet other students in similar positions. This helps you to realize that you are not alone, and you can share experiences with people who really understand. The Office for Student Disabilities Service might run a support group, or will have the details of one that is held on campus.

Sources:

Stephanie Sarkis, PhD. Making the Grade with ADD: A Student’s Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder. New Harbinger 2008

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