Web UpdateStudents with disabilities often undiagnosed

Mary Pumphrey
(FS View)

When April, a recently graduated English major from the University of Virginia, began to have trouble getting her work done in the fall semester of her fourth year, she thought she might be depressed.

During a screening interview at Student Health, April revealed that she had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder in high school but she had not felt it necessary to treat the disorder in college.

April worked with Student Health’s Learning Needs Evaluation Center during her fourth year, and eventually was prescribed a combination of drugs and therapy.

April’s reluctance to acknowledge her ADD is common, said Valerie Schoolcraft, disability services coordinator for the University Learning Needs Evaluation Center, which coordinates support for University students with learning, physical and emotional disabilities.

According to the LNEC mission statement, learning disabilities are defined as disabilities “which affect learning in individuals with normal or above normal intelligence and may affect learning processes, but not necessarily the capacity to learn.”

While it is estimated that 10 percent of college-aged students have a learning disability, only 2 to 4 percent of them acknowledge their disability and ask for help, Schoolcraft said.

The motivations of the 6 to 8 percent of students for not getting help are varied, Schoolcraft said.

“People with disabilities are often concerned about being treated differently, and they don’t want people to think less of them,” she said.

While some students with learning disabilities may need accommodations, they may be reluctant to ask for these services because they do not want to appear to be taking advantage of their disorders to receive preferential treatment, Schoolcraft said.

These necessary allowances could include increased time to complete assignments, and priority scheduling to ensure they have classes that are a good fit for their learning needs.

Students with learning disabilities “don’t want people to think they are getting away with anything,” she said. “It’s sort of avoiding potential discrimination.”

While April initially was diagnosed with ADD in high school, many students in college with learning disabilities in college remain undiagnosed.

In high school, students often are able to have their needs informally accommodated.

“That very idea that you are smart affords you the opportunity to self-accommodate,” Schoolcraft said.

Examples of self-accommodation that are possible in high school but less possible in college include asking for and receiving extra credit for additional assignments when a student is unable to complete initially assigned tasks.

Another method is making and receiving approval for requests for more time to complete assignments without penalty without formal documentation of a learning disability.

Trying to rely on these non-formal accommodations in college can be detrimental to student’s GPA Schoolcraft said.

“The level of study is higher,” she said. “The work is higher. The teachers might not be quite as flexible. (Undiagnosed or undocumented students) may find themselves in a place where they may not necessarily understand what’s going on and may need help sorting that out.”

When students do not receive the help they need, they may not end up performing as well as they could, Schoolcraft said.

April agreed.

“I definitely feel like I would have (been a more successful student) if I had gone in earlier stopped saying ‘I should work harder’ instead of actually trying to figure out what was wrong,” she said.

While many students with learning needs may feel that their professors may think less of them if they request accommodations, Schoolcraft said she has found that most professors and administrators are actually very supportive of students’ requests.

“For the most part I find that professors, and the academic deans here to be very good,” Schoolcraft said. “The people here want you to succeed. There is a notion that if you were admitted here you can succeed here,” she added.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “April” is a recent University of Virginia graduate. Her name has been changed for this article.

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