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Students with ADD have options

November 15, 2007

Attention deficit and related disorders can make getting through college a struggle, but there are steps students can take to improve their odds at academic success.

Close to 8 percent of UW-River Falls students responding to the 2006 National College Health Assessment reported that attention deficit disorder had affected their academic performance in some way.

ADD makes it difficult for students to focus long enough to get through a lecture, reading or test, Disability Services Coordinator Mark Johnson said.

If these symptoms lead to lower grades, bigger psychological issues can arise.

“The main effect attention deficit has on students is their self-esteem or self-concept,” Johnson said. “They tend to believe they are not as smart as other people.”

Students who have been properly diagnosed with ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can take several actions to prevent the disorder from getting in the way of their schoolwork.

“Always study in the same place with no interference,” UWRF counselor Dave Sommers said.

This means finding a quiet place away from friends, phones and television. Students can also undergo counseling to learn how to focus better and how to tune out distractions, Sommers said.

Johnson recommends students break their studying time up into shorter sessions spread throughout the day. Students with ADD or ADHD may only be able to sit down and study for 20 minutes at a time before they can no longer concentrate, Johnson said.

Medication is another option that may help lessen many of the symptoms of ADD and ADHD.

“I know of one person whose ACT score went from the low teens to the high twenties [with medication],” Johnson said.

If none of these techniques work, UWRF students may qualify for special accommodations through the Disability Services Office. About 30 percent of the students receiving accommodations through Disability Services have ADD or ADHD, Johnson said.

Disability Services provide lecture notes to students when their ADD or ADHD interferes with their ability to follow along in class. Students whose disorder makes tests a challenge may be able to arrange an alternative, distraction-free environment for test taking or may be allowed more time to complete their exams, Johnson said.

To qualify for these accommodations, students need to get a letter from a doctor verifying that they do have ADD or ADHD and explaining which accommodations are necessary.

“It’s really hard for the students to get those letters,” Johnson said. “It can take up to three months.

Typically, the process involves about five trips to the doctor and extensive tests to make sure the proper diagnosis is made.

There are some limitations to what Disability Services can do for students with ADD or ADHD.

“We don’t work with them on their lessons, and we don’t help them with their assignments,” Johnson said. “We don’t help them with testing.”

Instead, Disability Services simply offers students alternative ways to pick up information without getting too involved in the student’s schooling, Johnson said.

“Typically, we don’t get to know the students too well because they are trying to be as independent as possible,” Johnson said.

Any student who’s having trouble understanding their schoolwork, whether or not they have ADD, can contact the Academic Success Center and request a tutor.