Most college support services sound alike when described
in college catalogues. The unsuspecting student or parent
would assume that support services are much the same from
one school to the next, but this is far from true. Although
several guides that have been developed to assist parents
and students in selecting colleges with good learning disability
support services, no such guide has yet been developed for
ADHD support services.
By making a little effort and by knowing the right questions
to ask, you can easily differentiate between excellent, mediocre,
and "barely there" ADHD support services.
Below is a list of questions to ask. Only a few top schools
will be able to give an optimal response to all of the questions
below. A college disability support office that is able to
give positive answers to the majority of the following questions
should be given strong consideration.
Support services may have different names at different colleges.
Search under Disability Services, Disability Support, or Learning
Support Services. If you begin your college search with a
lengthy list of schools, your first contact with disability
support services can be by email. A rapid, encouraging response
to your email is a good sign of adequate staffing and a positive
attitude toward students with need for accommodations and
learning supports. As you narrow your list of schools, an
in-person interview with a disability support service provider
is strongly recommended. Be sure to schedule that interview
in conjunction with your visit to the school to coordinate
it with the scheduled campus tour.
Is the director of the Office of Disabled Student Services
a specialist in ADHD and/or LD? If the answer is
"no" the college is much less likely to provide
good support services for students with learning needs.
How many students with ADHD or LD are registered
with the DSS office? The more the better! A large number
of registered students suggests better funding and staffing
for support services.
How many ADHD and/or LD specialists are employed
full-time by disability services? Beware of a large university
that employs only one or two specialists.
How long has the support program for students with ADHD and LD existed on campus? The longer the better.
Good support programs take time to build.
How long has the current director been in place? The
longer the better. The program director is typically the
individual who is the heart and soul of the ADHD/LD
Is there a formal LD program available for students
on campus? Does the student have to make a separate application
to this program? Are there additional costs associated
with this program? Many students with ADHD also
have learning disabilities and may need support services
for LD as well.
Is there an ADHD specialist or special services
for ADHD students? Most often the answer is "no."
A positive answer, however, is an excellent sign. Many
support services assume that students with ADHD and LD need the same services. While there is certainly
some overlap, students with ADHD typically need
much more support in scheduling, time management, and
daily life management.
Is there an ADHD student support group on campus?
Finding other students with ADHD and having an organized
meeting at which you can "learn the ropes" is
a big plus.
Is there a faculty education program to familiarize the
faculty with the needs of students with ADHD or
LD? Faculty education about ADHD is very important.
Today, many faculty members have little knowledge or training
about students with ADHD and may even have a negative,
skeptical attitude toward students who ask for accommodations.
What kinds of accommodations does the school offer students
with special needs? At minimum, a college should provide
the possibility of a note-taker in each class, the possibility
of extended time on exams, and the possibility of taking
exams in a quiet, non-distracting environment.
Is specialized tutoring available for students with ADHD or LD? Almost all campuses provide peer tutoring,
however students with ADHD and LD typically need
more specialized tutoring from a trained tutor.
Are there seminars or courses for students with ADHD and LD that teach study skills or self-advocacy
skills? A very positive sign if the answer is "yes."
Entering freshmen can benefit tremendously from a specialized
ADHD/LD study skills seminar. (Be sure that this
is differentiated from a general study skills seminar
available to all entering freshmen.)
Does the DSS office facilitate the communication of the
student's disability needs to each professor? Disability
services should provide official documentation of the
student's disability and the accommodations for which
he is eligible. In addition, be sure to ask what types
of supportive communication are provided from student
disability services in the event that a professor is not
cooperative in providing accommodations.
How complicated is the procedure a student must follow
to obtain alternative testing (extended time or on a computer)?
Some schools require such a complex set of steps each
time a student with ADHD receives alternative testing
that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the student
with organizational and time management problems to comply.
Is there a specialist on campus who teaches planning,
organizational and study skills? If "yes", this
is a good sign. If "no," be sure to ask if the
student disability office has a list of private professionals
in the community that can provide such services.
What types of writing supports are available for students
with ADHD and LD? Are these different or more intensive
than supports available to all students? Writing papers
is often one of the greatest challenges for college students
with ADHD. Because they have a particular set of
challenges, it is most helpful if writing tutors are available
who have specialized training and experience in working
with students with ADHD.
Is ADHD coaching available through the student
disability office? Some schools with cutting-edge support
services are beginning to train their staff in ADHD
Does the student disability office maintain a list of
experienced professionals in the community who can provide
ongoing treatment - medication and psychotherapy for ADHD? Such a list is routine in most disability offices.
Do students with ADHD and LD have early registration
privileges to allow them to select the courses and professors
they need? A very critical accommodation, allowing a student
with special needs to hand-pick professors and to customize
his or her schedule. It is not a good sign if a college
does not provide this accommodation.
Does the school offer specialized academic advising
through the DSS office for students with ADHD and
LD? A very strong need! If students with ADHD and
LD are sent, along with all other students, for academic
advising by someone with little or no training in ADHD, the advising is unlikely to be helpful.
Is there a way in which a student can identify faculty
members who are knowledgeable about and sympathetic toward
the needs of students with ADHD and LD? Few disability
offices will provide an "ADD-friendliness" rating
of faculty members, however many office will allow students
to make such ratings and will keep a book of such ratings
available for other students to peruse.
Does the DSS office help to mediate disputes between
student and professor regarding rights and accommodations?
Unfortunately, many college professors are still not aware
of the legal rights of students with a documented disability
such as ADHD and some are even hostile to the idea
of providing accommodations to these students. Students
with ADHD should strongly pursue the choice of a
college which has an active ADHD and LD faculty
education program and which provides mediation when students
encounter resistance from a professor who is asked to
provide reasonable accommodations.
What is the school's policy toward course substitution
when a student's disability prevents him from fulfilling
a particular requirement toward graduation such as a math
or foreign language course? Are requirements ever waived?
Under what circumstances? If a student with ADHD
has a particular difficulty with math or foreign language,
it is critical that the flexibility of such requirements
be carefully considered before applying to a particular
Are students required to fail math or foreign language
before they can qualify for a waiver? Do these failing
grades become part of the student's GPA? A critical question!
Some schools that provide requirement waivers or course
substitutions, first require a student to take and fail
the required course. If this failing grade becomes a permanent
part of the undergraduate record it can have a lasting
negative effect upon the student's grade point average.
Are students who currently receive services through
the DSS office available for prospective students to talk
with? Although it is important to talk directly with counselors
in the student disability services office, it is also
extremely helpful to get the "lowdown" from
current students. Most support services offices should
be willing to arrange this on an informal basis. Just
spending a little time in the reception area of the disability
services office can allow the possibility to interact
with other students who receive disability support services.
Are counselors available on an ongoing basis for ADHD counseling and support? A student with ADHD
often experiences an emotional roller-coaster ride for
the first year or more of college. Guidance, counseling
and encouragement from trained staff can make the difference
between success and failure during the first year or two
Time spent carefully researching the support services and
accommodations available at colleges that you are considering
is time well spent. Too often a college is selected with little
or no consideration of the services available for students
with ADHD, and much too often such lack of consideration
contributes to college failure.
Many high school students are "sure" that they
won't need or want any special supports in college. Even if
a student feels no need for supports, he or she is well advised
to attend a college at which such supports are available if
needed. Far better to have them available and not need them
than to need them and not have them available!