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Trying to decide which college or university best suits them is challenging enough for the average student when applying to colleges. It is even more difficult for students with learning disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) due to their specialized concerns.
Students with learning disabilities have to search for a school that has the usual opportunities and amenities that fit their personality while also providing the services required by their learning disability and style. The student also needs to find a school where the people providing these services will be dedicated to helping them and fighting for the student’s rights under the American Disabilities Act.
Departments such as the Disabilities Recourse Center (DRC) at Northeastern University are set up to provide these types of services to the school’s student population with disabilities. The DRC provides services to students with physical disabilities like hearing and sight impairment as well as neurological learning disabilities. The DRC is a cooperative entity that helps both the students and their professors in ensuring that the student receives the accommodations they require. It takes dedicated professionals to provide these services. One of the most dedicated staffers of the DRC is Dean Ruth Bork, the director of the DRC.
“I have been working with disabled students since 1974. Since much of my time is involved in resolving challenges that are difficult and plentiful, I usually don’t have much time to think about the satisfaction and rewards of the job,” said Dean Bork.
As a Northeastern student with a documented case of ADHD who had not worked closely with the DRC, which has been providing services since 1978, I was interested in investigating what services the center provided and how they worked while also taking a look at some of the services provided by our cross-town rivals Boston University for students with learning disabilities such as mine.
The American heritage Dictionary defines Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as, “an attention deficit disorder in which hyperactivity is present.” Attention Deficit Disorder is defined as, “A syndrome, usually diagnosed in childhood, characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness, a short attention span, and often hyperactivity, and interfering especially with academic, occupational, and social performance.” ADHD is most often diagnosed during childhood and was formerly believed to have lessened and ended as the child matured but recent studies have found that between 35 and 50 % of all cases persist into adulthood.
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My case went undiagnosed until my senior year of high school. The Doctor Barbra Gordych, who diagnosed my case, said that a person with ADHD has a brain that seems to be running in a low gear and can not get revved up into a higher gear in order to focus on studying or taking notes in class without treatment. ADHD is often treated by medicating the patient with stimulants.
During the time I have been researching and writing this article I have begun the process of being officially registered with an open file at Northeastern’s DRC. During this process I met with the Associate Director of the DRC to discuss the accommodations she recommended for me and to fill out paper work. According to Anderson, who has been working at the DRC since 1985, there is no training in how to help students with learning disabilities for professors at Northeastern. She says that the majority of Northeastern professors she has worked with are very open to providing the accommodations that students need. My experience was very productive and motivating.
Anderson said that she once had a student with a learning disability which prevented him from conceptualizing things like angles and geometric shapes and angles in his mind. This made things very difficult for him since he was majoring in civil engineering, which relies heavily on a student’s ability to do conceptualize the things he or she intends to engineer. So this particular student of Anderson's came to her with this problem and she organized a sit down with the professor and the student. After discussing the issue for a while she asked the professor what professional engineers used and he said they used models to get the best understanding of what they were attempting to draw up. This clicked a light on for all three parties and the professor changed the entire format for his final in order to accommodate the student and found that it helped the entire classes understanding so he changed his style of teaching and testing for everyone.
Of the 18,676 students enrolled at Northeastern approximately 500 students have registered a disability with the DRC. This number includes physical, mental and emotional impairments. Of those 500 students over 300 are students with a learning disability including ADHD. The center’s Director, Dean Ruth Bork says that the DRC is under funded and understaffed. We were unable to find the exact amount of Northeastern’s budget dedicated to the DRC. However, this lack of funding makes the center a relatively low profile part of Northeastern. “I was diagnosed with ADD as a child but had no idea what services were provided at NU,” said junior criminal justice major Mark Gillis.
“I am pained by your use of the word ‘suffering.’ Though ADHD may present life-long challenges for people, very few of the thousands of students who have come through the DRC and worked closely with us would agree with your use of the term,” Dean Bork said.
For a student at Northeastern to receive accommodations for his or her learning disability they must register with the DRC. This registration requires that students go through a similar but sometimes more stringent documentation process than that which was required of them in high school. This is because the laws governing the area of documentation are different for colleges and universities than elementary and high schools.
“All students must provide appropriate documentation that reflects that the student has a significant impairment. For students with LD (learning disability) or AD(H)D this documentation must conform to the criteria developed in 1997 by our professional organization, the Association on Higher Learning Education and Disability (AHEAD),” stated Dean Bork.
Students must also meet with a councilor from the DRC to assess the extent of their disability and what services would be best for the student.
“To register for services all students with any disability must meet with a disability specialist for an hour interview during which time the counselor tries to get a full and thorough understanding of the disability, its impact on the student and its academic ramifications,” siad Dean Bork.
There are six staff members in the DRC who provide services and counseling for students with learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder including Attention Hyperactivity Disorder. That means that there are a little more then 50 students with a learning disability to every staff member involved in the area. Four of these staff member’s sole charge is to work with this particular group.
“As far as services provided, that is determined by the diagnostic evaluation in conjunction with the discussion with the student during the registration process and taking into consideration the courses the student is taking,” said Dean Bork.
One of the in-classroom accommodations for students with learning disabilities is “time and a half” test taking which allows additional time for students with disabilities such as ADHD who have difficulty organizing their thoughts. If there is a one hour test the student will be given one and a half hours to complete the test. Time and a half testing can be done in room or office set up by the professor who organizes a proctor or in the DRC where the DRC proctors the test as an advocate for the student and the professor. Some students are also allowed to take tests on a computer because it can be easier to organize their thoughts and because they may find it easier to type than handwrite a response to an essay question. Note taking services are also available amongst many other accommodations for students depending on their disability and its severity.
DRC councilors are available for meetings with documented incoming students during the summer orientations. Many students find this helpful because they can identify the services that will meet their particular needs and create a strategy for the upcoming school year before classes begin. This also makes the students more familiar with the department and the councilors before they arrive at Northeastern for classes.
The DRC provides two programs to help students with learning disabilities handle the rigors of college life. Level one is learning Disabilities Services. According to the DRC website, “If you choose this level of service you will need to be self-directed and able to independently request and arrange for accommodations in advance.”
This level provides flexibility in how often the student meets with their councilor and what they discuss. The student can make a schedule to meet with their councilor once a week or only when the student has a concern about their progress or the affect of their disability. Students can discuss their learning style, their ability to manage their time, their organizational skills or their ability to ask for accommodations on their own.
According to Learning Disability Specialist Sheila Wulf, “One thing you need to understand is that there are two different levels of services offered. The level one services are free, and available through the Disabilities Resource Center to any student with appropriate documentation. Level two services are provided by the Learning Disabilities Program in a fee for service arrangement. Freshman as well as upper classmen are given accommodations according to their individual needs. The Learning Disabilities Program provides a more intense and comprehensive level of services than the disability Resource Center.”
Level two provided for those students with learning disabilities is the Learning Disabilities Program (LDP). This program has a restricted enrollment total so the DRC suggests that incoming students apply for admittance as early as possible. This is a very individualized program with weekly one-on-one meetings between the student and their learning disabilities specialist to keep on top of the student’s course work and goals. The goal of the program is designed to help students achieve goals of actively improving their learning skills and better understanding their learning disability.
According to the website applying for enrollment in the LDP is a separate process from applying to the university or the DRC. There is a separate application form. Those not accepted to the program will have their documentation forwarded to the DRC for enrollment there. The LDP does have a fee of $2,100 per semester so it is only for those who are very serious about learning more about their disability, how to live with it and getting intensive one-on-one counseling.
Boston University offers a more intensive summer introduction to their services than Northeastern. They call it the Entry program according to the Office of Disability Services (ODS) web-site the program includes a five-day introduction the week before the semester begins and “continued individualized strategy tutoring and ongoing support throughout a student’s first academic semester.” One of the benefits is that the students move into there assigned living space for the year at the beginning of the five-day program. The program is designed to prepare students with documented disabilities to better handle the personal and academic challenges found on a college campus such as time management and self-advocating. The program also includes weekly meetings with an academic support specialist, bi-weekly group meetings with support staff and a peer mentor. There is also a $2,100 fee for the Entry program at Boston University the same as the fee for an entire year of the LDP at Northeastern University.
The official philosophy of Boston University’s Learning Disabilities Service (LDS) can be found on the school website and reads as follows, “As part of the Office of Disability Services, LDS is committed to working with individuals with disabilities to facilitate access to all aspects of University life. LDS’s primary objective is to foster academic excellence, personal responsibility and leadership growth in students with learning, attention, or other psychological or cognitive disabilities. LDS is also committed to promoting self-advocacy and to ensuring that qualified students with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, and other psychological or cognitive disabilities may function independently within the academic, social and recreational environment of a competitive university.”
The LDS help students on an individual basis to decide what sort of academic accommodations students need and how to go about getting them through self-advocacy. They put an emphasis on understanding the individual’s disability, how it affects their educational strengths and weaknesses and how to work with it to become a successful student and adult. Boston University also offers study skill workshops for students with learning disabilities that are conducted by Learning disability strategy tutors, professional staff and LDS learning specialists.
The Boston University LDS also provides a Comprehensive Strategy Tutoring Program which has intensive individual weekly meetings with the student and a councilor. The goals of the program vary depending on the individual’s situation and goals. There are a wide array of areas that an individual can work to improve through the program from reading comprehension to note taking to time management and organization. This program also has a fee requirement for enrollment.
Finding a school with the recourses that a student with a learning disability requires is difficult but possible. Potential students should look into the schools service centers before enrolling at a college or university and should make sure that they feel comfortable with the staff and the services they provide.