Many college students with ADHD or learning disabilities receive accommodations in order to complete their work at a more even level with their peers. However, accommodations are often chosen based on a standard template, rather than based on what would actually be most useful for the individual student.
Many college students receiving accommodations may be familiar with the most commonly recommended resources but not aware of how they are meant to help and what alternatives are also available.
Using accommodations can sometimes take time away from students by setting up services with the school’s disabled students or psychological services center, attending extra college counseling meetings, coordinating services with professors, etc.
If the accommodations are appropriate and helpful, this time is well worth it. However, this is often not the case.
Understanding each type of accommodation offered and when it benefits you will enable you to maximize the services available while not wasting time for services you don’t need.
Remember that accommodations, as much as possible, are meant to provide an equal platform for students with a disability so they can be evaluated fairly. This way the student is being tested on their knowledge of the content area, rather than how well they can track words on a page or write quickly.
Below is a list of some accommodations for students with ADHD or learning disabilities, how they can be helpful and when to maximize them:
Extra time is one of the most commonly recommended and most commonly requested accommodations. However, in my work as a Learning Disabilities Specialist, I found that extra time was only useful in certain circumstances.
For example, many students would set up taking a test outside the classroom in order to use their extra time. However, they would often finish the test well before the regular test time was over, anyway. This is especially true for most students with ADHD. They may need a quiet room or breaks (see below) but the time itself is rarely an issue.
When to use it
If you genuinely use the extra time for exams on a regular basis, keep doing it!
Look at when you need extra time. For example, some students only find extra time useful for math exams or for writing exams. Consider things like how quickly and easily you write, how quickly and easily you read, whether or not you have difficulty tracking items and how long it takes you to edit or check your work after it’s complete.
If you notice that you only use extra time for certain exams, then use your accommodations then but don’t worry about wasting time with others.
Priority registration can be extremely beneficial for some students, but again, is not always needed. This gives identified students first priority in choosing classes and is usually more helpful at large universities where classes may fill up quickly.
When to use it
Priority registration is especially helpful for students with physical disabilities so they can plan out their schedule to allow for time to get from one class to another and maximize proximity of classes. It may also be necessary for students with a medical condition that have to attend regular medical appointments (e.g. dialysis) and need to ensure they can work classes around that schedule.
Another helpful way to use priority registration is for class size.
If you have ADHD and your school has two large classes but two other classes that have fewer students, you would likely benefit from attending the smaller sized class that will have fewer distractions and more attention from the professor. Also, if you have more severe ADHD and find that afternoon classes work significantly better for you, priority registration will ensure you don’t end up with an 8am class.
I find that breaks during tests are one of the best, yet least used and recommended accommodations. Breaks can mean anything from allowing a student with a medical condition to get up and stand during the test, to giving a student with ADHD a 15 minute break in between a math exam.
When to use it
I recommend examining your successful study habits to see if breaks would be a useful accommodation. Do you typically have difficulty focusing after a certain period of time? Do you find yourself needing to move around or stand after sitting for a specific timeframe?
If you can identify how breaks help you stay on track or minimize a disability, then you can present this as an option to your school counselor.
This is another accommodation that is often misused but when used in the appropriate circumstances, can make a world of difference.
It’s fairly self-explanatory, but this means the student takes their exam in a room separate from the rest of the class. This may be in a room alone or even with 2-4 other students (especially during busy times like finals when schools may not have dozens of rooms available).
When to use it
If you find yourself distracted by outside noises at all, a quiet room is beneficial. While things like windows and being around others is beneficial for creativity, it is rarely helpful for detail-oriented tasks that must be done in a certain timeframe. Removing as many distractions as possible can be a game changer for things like math or science exams.
Note takers are different in that they are used for regular classroom days, rather than for tests. Students who have difficulty writing due to a medical condition or dysgraphia may find it helpful to have a note taker. This is often another student in the class who is designated to provide a copy of their notes.
When to use it
If you have dysgraphia, meaning that you need to focus so much on the act of writing that you are unable to focus on the content being written, a note taker can make a huge difference.
Likewise, if you have a medical condition (recent surgery and your dominant arm is in a sling) that prevents easy writing, this can be absolutely necessary for collecting information you need to use later in the class.
The use of a scribe may be related to having a note taker or may be for another reason. Rather than writing down what a professor is saying, a scribe writes down what you are saying so that you do not need to write it yourself. This most commonly relates to essay or short answer exams.
When to use it
Similar to a note taker, if you have dysgraphia and the act of writing itself takes up take and energy unrelated to the actual content on which you’re being tested, a scribe can help. This may also relate to severe dyslexia or even ADHD, where editing and reviewing answers becomes confusing. This way you can have someone else write and then read back to you what they have written.
A reader is someone who can read content and test questions to you during an exam. They don’t interpret things or help with answering questions, they simply read whatever content is on the exam.
When to use it
If you have to spend time focusing on the act of reading, as is often the case with dyslexia, a reader can take that pressure off so you’re able to focus on the content of the exam instead.
For students with ADHD, a reader can also be useful so you don’t spend time reading the same sentence over and over. However, it’s not useful for all students with ADHD because some students are better able to focus when reading on their own.
There are lots of technology tools that are helpful for people with ADHD or learning disabilities. These tools can be used for exams or for study.
These include things like the Kurzweil, which is a computer program that will read textbooks or anything else you scan and upload to a computer. Most computers are also able to read documents aloud.
Sometimes a computer itself is also considered an accommodation.
For example, some people may not need a scribe if they can simply type their in class essay on a computer. Or the may not need a reader if a computer can read their exam to them.
Due to concerns about accessing information not available to other students, computers are often only used in an office with a test monitor, or a scribe or reader may be required instead.
Some professors are hesitant to give students access to their computers or audio recorders during class but these can also be great alternatives for students who have trouble taking notes.
Sometimes typing the information is easier than writing. And recording lectures can be helpful for students with ADHD in case they have trouble focusing during an entire lecture or miss an important detail about an assignment.
Ultimately, accommodations are hugely beneficial for students with ADHD and learning disabilities, but the accommodations must have a reasoning behind them.
Make sure your accommodations make sense for your weaknesses, and also for the specific classes to which they apply.
Once you’re able to identify the accommodations that are most useful to you, you can create habits that will help throughout your lifetime. This skill of adapting to work differently is priceless and the key to creating a successful career.
If you're still looking for help with figuring out the best strategies to manage school or work, schedule a free 20 minute consultation to see if counseling may be a good fit for you.