Asking for help is hard, sure. But have you ever stopped to ask why it’s hard for you? See, asking others for support is hard for each of us in a different way. Maybe we live with the anxiety that others will judge us for not being competent in some are or another. Maybe we believe they’ll think we’re not as smart as they are, or as they thought we were. Maybe we struggle with the logistics of asking for — and taking advantage of — help from another.
Until you figure that out, you’re going to have a tough time marching into your office of disability services to ask for the support you deserve as you make your way through school with ADHD. This week on the show, Nikki and Pete take on the myths and misunderstandings about ADHD accommodations in college, starting with the old saw, “accommodations make for an unfair advantage.” But that’s not all! You’ll end with a guide to the sort of language you can use to reach out to your instructors and professors to explain your needs, advocate for yourself, and set yourself up for success.
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Pete: Hello, everybody and welcome to Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, on rashpixel.fm. I'm Pete Wright. And that over there is Nikki Kinzer.
Nikki: Hello, everyone. Hello, Pete Wright.
Pete: All right. Do I still sound sniffly? In my head I sound sniffly.
Nikki: Nope, you sound great, clear.
Pete: I sound like I'm in a submarine.
Nikki: Well, right there, you did.
Pete: Dive Red October, dive. That's what it feels like.
Nikki: When you say submarine, it sounds a little underwater.
Pete: Yeah. You know, there was a great Steven Wright joke years ago. He says, you know, he does that deadpan thing, "Sometimes, I like to get in my bathtub, and turn on the shower, and lay down, and pretend I'm in a submarine that's been hit." I love that joke. That's what I feel like after having been sick all weekend.
Nikki: Oh, I'm sorry.
Pete: And I missed so much good stuff. There's been so much great conversation over on Discord and people who are really going through it. And some people are experiencing some awesome successes. So shout out to all of those people with their new jobs and people who were [inaudible 00:01:08] the story of…I don't know. I'm not gonna name names, but the story of our dear member who was laid off in what sounds like an incredibly confusing and ridiculous bit of misunderstanding of qualifications. And I just wanna say out loud, that is a terrible situation. And thank you for everyone who has jumped in and been supportive. And I'm sorry, it took me so long to even read the posts because I've been underwater. But there's just a lot of wonderful sharing going on over there. So thanks for that community.
We are talking about ADHD student accommodations today, continuing our back to school series this month. So many wonderful things to talk about. Before we do that, head over to takecontroladhd.com, get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website, or subscribe to the mailing list where we'll send you an email each week as the episodes are released. And of course, you can connect with us on Twitter or Facebook at @takecontroladhd. Okay, ADHD student accommodations. Nikki, this has been a hard subject for me to swallow.
Nikki: Why? I'm surprised.
Pete: Big sigh, Nikki, I'm frustrated. As a former faculty member, I'm not actively teaching right now, I feel like I've dealt with this over 15 years of teaching. And I have been preparing for my conversation next week. And I am woefully chagrined at the number of my fellow instructors that have not been confronted by students requesting support.
Nikki: So if I understand you correctly, what you're saying is that more students need to ask for support.
Pete: Yes, confirmed, Nikki, confirmed. If anything comes out of this week and next week, which I should say is changing a little bit from my end next week, because I'm not gonna create...
Nikki: I know. I twitter you a text message.
Pete: No. No, I'm just not getting very good feedback.
Nikki: Oh, okay.
Pete: Well, I guess it's not even. Mine is moving again even further, right? Something has happened. Anyway, I'm just saying this and next week is all about, in my view, people, it's okay to ask for the accommodations that you are deserving of, okay? That's the bottom line, it's okay to be your best advocate. And if there's no other bottom line, I wanna lay it out here right now, and now, we're gonna talk about it, then we're gonna say it again at the end, because you need to hear it many times.
Nikki: Right. Because here, just visualize this for a second, you're climbing a mountain, you can climb it with shoes, or you can climb it with no shoes. How do you wanna climb it?
Pete: Chewing gum, the ADHD answer to everything.
Nikki: For you to chew gum while you're doing it?
Pete: Oh, right, I forgot my shoes but I've got my gum.
Nikki: Got my gum.
Pete: No, you're exactly right, the metaphor is so apt. And I think that it's a struggle to watch people struggle, you know? And now I know we're gonna talk about this a little bit later, but because instructors are in a very challenging position when it comes to offering support. Let's dig into it. We'll talk more about that. Where do you wanna start today?
Nikki: Well, I wanna talk about the stigma around asking for help. You know, as an ADHD coach for college students, I've heard a lot of different reasons of why people think that they don't need help, right? So I would say the very first thing that I'll ask somebody, do you have accommodations? I asked a student last week if they had… They're going to be a freshman into this new college. Are you asking for accommodations? Well, I didn't have them as a high school student, so I'm not gonna ask them in college. I said, "Well, you know what? My suggestion is that you do because high school is different than college. College is gonna be different from high school. You have a diagnosis of ADHD, I highly recommend that you go to the student services and figure out what you need to do to make that happen." So that's one reason, right? I didn't have them in high school, I don't need them in college.
I've also heard where people think that they have an unfair advantage. Like, they think they're being unfair to other people, as they're given more time on a test. And so then they feel like they're cheating in some way. There's also the embarrassment factor. I don't wanna have to leave the class and take this test somewhere else, or have people notice that I wasn't there. So there's this shame around, you know, having these accommodations. And it is a complicated process, right? So the difference between college and high school is that in high school, your school, if you go to a public school, and probably a private school too, Pete, you might know more about this than I do, they are required to be looking out for these type of situations and talk to parents about issues that they see with their kids. And, you know, it could lead to a diagnosis of ADHD, it can lead to an IEP plan, am I saying that right, 504 Plan?
Pete: Right, 504 or IEP. I don't know that I can say confidently that that language transfers to college, does it?
Nikki: Well, no. And that's what I'm saying, is that it doesn't. And so when you go to college, it is now solely your responsibility. Because the professors and, you know, the academic advisors, it's not up to them. It is solely up to you to go to the student services and say, "I have this diagnosis and I need accommodations." And so that can be very overwhelming because here's a student who maybe, you know, is 18, 19 years old, never been on their own, had mom and dad always helping them, had an advisor at school always helping them with the process, and now, they have to do it themselves. So it can be a little overwhelming and a little scary to do that.
Pete: That's the thing that's super complicated. And I'm hoping that you can walk through what you would normally walk through, you know, with your college student clients, because I know the steps are tricky, and I know they seem odious. Like, it seems like something, "Oh, my goodness, they're asking for, what, a personality test, they're asking for an IQ test." Like, they're asking for a standard, you know, assessment for a diagnosis. And sometimes, that seems like, "Oh, my goodness, this is too much. It's just too much. The college wants too much." And, you know, the college, I will say, is likely in a space where they are protecting themselves by being thorough. And that thoroughness actually works in your favor ultimately, because they'll come up with a legitimate diagnosis for you that fits their cookie cutter, right, needs. And then you'll be able to ask for whatever you need. But the process is tricky. And if you're already living with ADHD, that in itself is the first hurdle.
Nikki: It is, it is, absolutely. So, you know, before I get to the steps, just to address what you're saying, I would definitely say at this point, you don't have to do it by yourself. This is complicated. Ask your mom or your dad to help you. If you're working with a coach, half of... You know, at the very beginning, when I first work with clients, that's what we're doing, is figuring out those accommodations. So certainly, you do not have to do this by yourself. And I also have to say, most student services are very helpful.
So go in and talk to them, don't be afraid of them. If you don't understand something, ask questions. Ask, you know, what is the next step that you need from me then? Like, be very clear because they will help you. Now, I know that there are some professors and some colleges that are probably not as helpful, but that's when you have to really be an advocate for yourself too, and not just walk away. You gotta keep asking questions and keep digging in for the answers that you deserve to have.
Pete: Right. And I just wanna confirm before we go on that, in fact, 504 is part of ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. And that does apply, Section 504 does apply through K-12, college, the whole thing. But it is actually the IEP process that you might be familiar with in K-12. It is under IDEA, that is not supported in college. So it is two sort of different things. But when you get to college, you're gonna be under guidance that is not something that you might be used to working with coming out of high school. It is not as supportive. But any institution that's processing federal financial aid, these are part of the requirements that they have to. If it's a Title IV school, they have to comply with these requirements. And so it is their obligation to make sure that you are taken care of, but they have to protect themselves too to get you into the process. That's what we're saying.
Nikki: That's right. And that's exactly what you need to know, is that it is your right under the Disabilities Act that you have these accommodations. So there's nothing for you to feel guilty about. And that's what I was telling one of the clients who told me that they felt like they really were having an unfair advantage because I said, "No, you're not doing anything wrong." And that's what we have to really wrap our heads around just that you are creating an equal playing field to the neurotypicals, right? So I use the example of do you climb the mountain with shoes or without shoes, but I've also used the idea of I wear glasses. If you and I were to race, and I didn't get to wear my glasses, because, you know, somebody thought it was an unfair advantage, you're gonna win the race, although you wear glasses too. And you get to wear your glasses, and I don't, you know?
So that's the way that we have to really think about it, is these things are set up to help you to succeed. And when we don't use them, you're really making things so much harder on yourself than they need to be. And even if someone says, "I don't think I need it. I don't need that extra time on my test. I can do just fine," I'm gonna tell you a little story about a real situation that happened. So I had asked...
Pete: Yeah. Why can't I just stop thinking about Will Smith right now? This is the story, all about how my life got turned right upside down.
Nikki: This is the story. That's right. Well, unfortunately, it did with this college student. And it was a really unfortunate situation. I encouraged her to get accommodations, but she didn't, which is fine. I mean, this is ultimately your decision. I can't force anybody to go down to student services and make this happen. So she had her class schedule, she had a lot of focus on some of these other classes. And there was one class that she was not doing very well in. And by the end of the semester, she was going to end up getting either a D or an F. So she went to the professor and asked if she could take an incomplete rather than a D or an F, and finish the work that didn't get done. Well, he said no because she had no accommodations in place. He never knew that she had any kind of issues with getting the work done.
I wrote a letter to him on behalf of her. Her parents did and I think her psychiatrist maybe did about how she had ADHD, and so forth. But it was too late. It was too late because he in his opinion, and he had the right to do this, was that I didn't know. And it's too late now. So you're going to get an F. A hard lesson to learn, that if she had had the accommodations in place, if she'd had the conversations with her professor beforehand, he probably would have said, "Yes, I'm going to give you an incomplete." And I say that with confidence, again, not that every professor is gonna do this, but I've had other students whose professors did give them an incomplete because they knew what was going on. And said, "I'm gonna give you an incomplete and you're gonna have this time frame to get the work done."
Pete: Yeah. Well, that's enormously important, the difference in those two things. And my suspicion is because in terms of faculty and administration, academic administration, ADHD, and all ADA, and IDEA accommodations are like "Fight Club," right? The rule of "Fight Club" is you don't talk about "Fight Club," right? As an instructor, I can't talk to you, I can't broach the conversation with you about your ADHD. You have to do that. You have to come to me and tell me because it is illegal for me to do it. Even if I have no doubt that you are living with ADHD, I have ADHD, I know what that looks like. I'm watching you, ADHD, I can say nothing about it until you come to me. And the school, their only legal responsibility to you, the Office of Disability Assistance, their only responsibility is to work with your instructor to ensure that they are aware once you have come forward that accommodations are in place. But you have to do it. You have to work with your instructor on additional time. Like, those things put the instructor in an enormously difficult position. And I...
Nikki: And that's what these kids, these young kids that are coming right out of high school, need to understand. Because in high school, the teacher can talk to you about your ADHD, you know, but you can't in college. That's a very, very good point.
Pete: Well, the nice thing is, and correct me on this if I start to lie, because I have…this is only in my personal experience talking with one, my rigorous research, we're talking with one therapist who provides ADHD assessments, that ADHD assessments last two years. So the general practice is to make sure if you're in high school, to get your assessment done your senior year, so that you have an assessment to take with you to the Office of Disability Services on day one of your first day of college. And you can hand that over, and so that they can hopefully skip a lot of their initial assessment. You will have to do it again your sophomore year, but at least that gets you started.
Nikki: And I think it does depend on the institution, because I've seen five years where the diagnosis has to be within five years. So I would say what you're saying, though, is he's right on because, man, that protects you whether it's two years or five years, you know, it's a lot less work than to try to get a hold of your psychiatrist, you know, right before you leave to go to school and all of that.
Pete: Yeah, get that scheduled during your senior year if you're in high school, that can save your bacon.
Nikki: Right. Well, and something else that I wanna talk about with the extra time on a test, because a lot of times, I get that pushback. And what I say to people is that it may not be that you need the extra time to actually complete it, but what it does is it gives you the extra time to double check your work. And that's the key here. That is the importance, because it gives you an opportunity to reread the directions. Did you answer the questions correctly? Because I can't tell you how many times I will talk to a client and say, "What do you think happened on this test?" I didn't understand the directions. I answered the question wrong, or I missed a question, or I missed a whole backside of a test because I thought I was done. So this extra time actually allows you to go back and really, like, reread everything, double check everything. And then if you're done great, but that's what it does, is it allows you to do that without stress.
Pete: Well, and keep in mind that your ADHD is going to impact you in different classes uniquely. So you might find you absolutely don't need extra time to complete and accurately do your, you know, calc exam, but you might in your media and pop culture exam. And you have to...
Nikki: And writing exam, or something.
Pete: Writing exam, exactly. So these long essays, you might have trouble organizing your thoughts. And so I think it's important just to get to know, you know, yourself a little bit, and be aware that you don't have to advocate for yourself to have extra time in every course. But if you don't go through the process at all, you lose the ability to advocate for yourself in any course.
Nikki: Right, and any situation. And because it may start out easy, but then it gets harder. And I've also found that, like, the more classes you take within your major, you know, when you're a junior or senior, it gets harder, you know? There's more stuff to do, there's more things to remember, all of that. So definitely, even if you don't think you need them now, and maybe you won't use them, still go through the process. And just to talk to you or to talk to the audience a little bit about advocating for yourself, I spoke a little bit about this, speak up, ask questions. When you go into the student services, and you're not sure what's going on, or you don't really know, you know, what the next step is, definitely be able to ask questions. But it's also going to be important that you know about your ADHD.
So again, this is about you being an advocate for yourself. You have to know and understand how your ADHD affects you so that you can express this to them. And, you know, so you have to think about this. And maybe you talk to an old teacher, or you talk to your parents about it, or, you know, whoever you want. But think about how did your ADHD affect you with learning and your performance? Was it hard for you to get things in time? Did you get overwhelmed when things were only talked about in an oral, you know, classroom situation and not written down? What are those things that could possibly help you so that when they ask you, because they will probably ask, I mean, they'll have a standard sheet, "Here you go," but they'll also ask, what do you think you need, and you have to be able to explain why this is going to help you.
Pete: There are things that are in and out of your instructor's ability too, that you may not be aware of, right? And some instructors are hard and fast on changing things like, you know, exam dates. But most of them are not. Like, most of them, if you come with your accommodations in place and you say, "Look, I've got you know, stacked exam dates one after the other during finals period. Do I have any leeway with you to move this exam on another day, because you're not gonna get my best work because of my ADHD?" That is something that most instructors will attempt to work with you on. They'll have a TA, they'll have somebody who'll sit with you and monitor you. You just have to ask.
Nikki: Well, and that's where the testing centers come in too. Because if you already have the accommodation of being able to take the test in a different environment. And you go in and talk to your professor and say, "I've got three final exams on Wednesday. Is there any way that I can schedule this final exam on a different day?" it happened, it happened to a client of mine this last spring. And they totally worked with them, "Sure, you can take it on Thursday. You have to take it by Friday, because Friday at 2:00, I'm gone," you know? So there was kind of, you know, a limit to how long.
But I had a client who I worked with about two or three years ago, and she was actually able to get her final exam pushed back to when she came back from vacation. So this was, like, winter to spring. So she took winter break off. And then when she came back, she was able to take that final exam for that class. So again, not every professor is gonna be that lenient or that nice. But I think that part of the reason that happened for her is that she had a relationship with this professor. And she was able to ask for that and he was able to accommodate it. So, you know, I think you...
Pete: You know, don't underestimate the power of those relationships…
Nikki: You can't.
Pete: …candid, radically candid relationships with the instructor. I would say, can we start at the beginning of the journey? Like, what are the first steps when you get to school? We've talked kind of very broadly about it. But, you know, who do you talk to first? What are you asking for? Walk through how you do that with your clients at work.
Nikki: So the first thing, obviously, I ask is if they're familiar with accommodations and what they've used in the past. And then I'll say, you know, "What you'll need to do is you'll need to contact your student services. And you're gonna need to ask them how to apply for accommodations." And I have to tell you, again, I'm their coach, but I'm not doing this for them. They have to do it. So I'm just guiding them to, this is your first step, is contact or look at the website and find out how to apply. They're gonna give you paperwork to fill out. They're gonna have a list of things that you're gonna need, right? They're gonna need the diagnosis. They're gonna need all of these different things. So you're gonna have to go through step by step what they need. Each school's process is gonna be different.
Pete: They might have to set up an actual other assessment with their in-house, you know, clinicians.
Nikki: Right. Yeah. So you've gotta go through that. Look at it all. If you're unclear, again, you need to keep asking questions. This is you advocating for yourself because you wanna know what it is that they need. Understand your ADHD and what accommodations you need. They're gonna give you probably a list of things that are pretty common, extra time on exams, a separate location is pretty common. However, again, with this, you have to be the one that sets up the exams at the special testing center. So this isn't something that they do for you, it is something that you still have to do yourself. They can give you extended time to finish assignments, they can give you permission to record lectures. A lot of universities have a note taking service like a note taker. You can get slides from professors. Something that you do that you get that a lot of people don't realize is they can get priority in class registration, which is really important when you start thinking about when your classes are.
So if sleep is an issue for you as an AD [inaudible 00:25:03], you're not gonna want your first class to start at 8 a.m. So you having a priority in that class registration helps you actually design a schedule that works for you. I've also seen where you get a priority in housing where you don't have to have a roommate. And so that could be something that you can look into. Reduced course load, there might be a minimum of 12 or 14 credits or whatever it is, and you can have the minimum. So there's a lot of different things.
Pete: That one is highly controversial. And I will tell you, you know, when I was approached about...because you can talk about a reduced course load in terms of, you know, the reduced course load per semester. But please, don't ask for reduced workload in class. Those are very different things.
Nikki: Oh, yes, yeah. Yes, and I wasn't thinking about that. Yeah.
Pete: Yeah, that's one that I have heard. Like, "Hey, you know, it's just too much. I'm not gonna be able to do all the homework assignments." No, that's not really what we're talking about. Remember, what instructors are most likely to help you with is adjusting the how and the when, but not the what, right?
Nikki: Not the what. Yeah, I agree.
Pete: Yeah. I mean, and you've gotta go in being willing to negotiate too, right? And most instructors are not going to respond kindly to, "Hey, I need more time on this exam. What do you think?" What they will respond kindly to is, "I'm gonna need a time and a half on this exam. Can I take it in the testing center so that I can get two and a half hours, you know, to take this exam instead what you've allotted in class," or, "Can I take this on a such and such a date?" Come with specifics of your request, and you're much more…in a much better position to negotiate. Sorry, I side-tracked you.
Nikki: Oh, no, I agree. I mean, that's a very good distinction, because that is not what I meant. It is definitely just the taking 12 credits versus taking 16.
Pete: Yeah. That's a double edged sword too, because, you know, it just takes longer to finish school mostly.
Nikki: It does. But you know what? Because a lot of times parents will be the ones that contact me first, and I tell them, "It's gonna take longer to get through school. You should expect a five..."
Pete: Anyway, right?
Nikki: Yeah. I'm like, "You should expect a five-year plan. And you should expect that there's gonna be some summer classes." Because if you want them to graduate, and you want them to be successful, giving them 18 credits or 16 credits per semester is not setting them up for success. So it is one of those things that, you know, is a reality. After you get the accommodation, so we're gonna say that, you know, "Yes, they're gonna give you accommodations," then you've gotta meet with your professors. And again, that's my recommendation, not all of my students do it. I wish they would, because I think that it sets them up for success. It just says, "Hey, my name is Nikki. I'm really excited about being in your class. I do have ADHD. This is my letter for accommodations," because they have to have that. So that's the other thing is the professor has to have the letter. So it gives you a good opportunity to give them…introduce yourself.
Visit their office hours. I also get some resistance around this. And I wish I didn't because it can be so helpful. And it can be not so helpful. I mean, I don't wanna make it like a dream world. I mean, sometimes, it's not helpful, and I get it. And there are some professors out there that probably should not be teaching. But you know what? They're not all like that. And you won't know until you go in and actually talk to them, and see if they can help you. You know, can they help prepare you for this test? If you didn't do well on a test, I highly recommend that you go to those office hours and talk to the professor about the test. What didn't you get? What was the challenge? And get as much information and help that you can. And even if it's not a common accommodation, you just never know until you ask. And that's, you know...
Pete: Yeah. I think the start of semester thing, like, right now, as we record this, professors are getting ready for the big fall semester and, you know, there's a lot that goes into that. And so my recommendation is the second you get your course list, and you have your list of professors' names, and email addresses, please send them an email. And that email needs to say exactly what Nikki just said, "Hi, my name is Pete. I'm really looking forward to your class," right? Just say it. I don't care if you're not, just say it.
Nikki: Just say it.
Pete: They like to hear it. We like to hear that. "And I need you to know, I have accommodations," or, "I live with ADHD," whether you have accommodations or not, frankly, "I live with ADHD." If you have accommodations, include a copy of your letter if you feel comfortable doing that. If you don't just say, "I live with ADHD. And I have put some accommodations in my life in place to help me be most successful. One of those things is taking an extended period of time to prepare my calendar, my workload, my task list of things that I'm going to need to do. Would it be possible for me to, please, get an electronic copy of the syllabus of this course early? Do you have something ready now that you could send me?" Now, I will tell you straight up, most of your professors are going to say, "I'm not ready." Like, "I'm just not done." And most of them are gonna be working on that until the minute...
Nikki: Right, yeah. I'm thinking of the professors that I work with who are like, "This is so stressful. I have to get the syllabus done." So, yeah, yeah.
Pete: It is. But you have to ask that because you will get some of them that will send it back. I was always one that would send it back. There are some that have struggles working with their online platforms, right, Canvas, Blackboard, whatever it is, Moodle, all of those have their own little things. And now, the syllabi are often locked into those. But most of your professors are gonna have, you know, Word formatted copies, draft copies of those before they entered all the data into the CMS. So just ask them to send it to you, textbooks lists, whatever it is that you're going...or major projects that you can build into the calendar, respectfully ask for those things so that you can take the time to get your head in the right place, and get your systems in the right place, and be ready for the first day of class.
Nikki: One last thing I wanna add before we wrap up is a lot of, especially these larger universities, and I hope that maybe the smaller ones do too, most of my clients come from larger ones, but outside of just the student services with the accommodations, they also have a lot of other resources that you can use, right? You can find time management courses that you can go through, like, online, self-study, time management courses, or study skills courses. Usually as freshmen, one of the first classes you take as a freshman is about preparing for college, and how to take notes, and organization, and all that. Pay attention, right? You know, really understand what they're telling you.
A lot of the universities will have academic coaches or, you know, tutors and people to help you. So definitely look at what's around you because we all, and I say we because I'm a coach, we all want you to succeed. We all want you to succeed. And everybody learns differently. And we all know ADHD has nothing to do with your intelligence level. And you're not stupid. You're not lazy asking for these things. Advocate for yourself. And, you know, get the degree that you wanna get. You can…you can do it. You can totally do it.
Pete: That's it. You can do it, yeah. You can totally do it. This is great. Next week, we're gonna kinda continue this conversation a little bit.
Nikki: Yes. Next week, you're taking the lead, right?
Nikki: We're gonna talk about what professors want their students to know. What was the... I can't remember the title.
Pete: Yeah. You know, we're gonna change some things up.
Nikki: We're gonna change the title.
Pete: Let's not promise anything, because I got changes coming.
Nikki: All right, good.
Pete: So we are gonna continue our conversation next week on this kind of material because this back to school season is an important one. So we're looking forward to setting you up for success. Good luck, everybody. Thank you so much for your time and attention. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I'm Pete Wright. And we'll catch you next week right here on Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.