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ADHD and College: The Pros and Cons of Disclosing Learning and Attention Differences

From the time you apply to college to the start of classes, you’ll have many new decisions to make. Choosing if, when, and how to disclose your learning attention differences will be one of the biggest decisions. Here are some factors to consider.

Disclosure During the Application Process

Pros

  • Disclosing a learning or attention issue when applying can help schools get a better picture of you and how you learn.
  • Let’s say your grades or SAT scores fall below the average for that school. Disclosing can help admissions officers understand the challenges behind the scores.

Cons

  • It’s not common, but some schools have an uninformed view of learning and attention differences. They may see them as a barrier to entry.
  • In those cases, the schools might not be a good fit for students who learn differently, anyway.

Things to know

  • You don’t have to disclose ADHD or other learning and attention differences when applying. And just talking to college officials about potential services and supports isn’t the same as disclosing. You’re free to ask as many questions as you want.
  • If you want to disclose, you have to put something in writing on your application.

Disclosure to  Disability Services

Pros

  • By disclosing to disability services (after you have enrolled in college), you are formally applying for services. There are no IEPs in college and services may vary.
  • Disclosing not only helps with your courses, it can also help you with social issues by building communication skills. It gives you access to professionals who understand your struggles.

Cons

  • There is no “con” here–this is a win-win situation. Disclosing to disability services doesn’t mean you have to use the support offered. It just gives you the option.

Things to know

  • Disability service staff members won’t share your information without your permission to your professors or parents. In fact, staff members won’t discuss your use of their services with your parents at all unless you sign a release form saying that it’s OK.

Disclosure to Professors

Pros

  • Opening up a dialogue with professors about your learning and attention differences is a great way to build self-advocacy skills, which you’ll probably find helpful in the working world.
  • Many college classes are large and professors don’t always have the time to get to know individual students.
  • Taking the initiative to talk with your professors helps them put a face to your name. It also shows them that you’re taking an active role in your education.
  • Disclosing to your professors will help them to support you both in and out of class . If you have disclosed to disabilities services, you’ll be able to provide your professors with a letter from disability services listing your approved accommodations.

Cons

  • Not all professors will be open to helping. Some may only provide the formal accommodations you have – and nothing more.
  • You won’t know how your professors will react until you talk to them.

Things to know

  • You can pick and choose which professors you’d like to discuss your issues with, and how you want to bring it up.
    • For example: If you have dyscalculia, it might help to talk with your math professor. But you don’t have to share that information with your literature professor.
  • If you’re disclosing to disability services, you might want to wait for them to give you the official paperwork regarding accommodations before you talk to your professors.

Disclosing to Friends and Classmates

Pros

  • Disclosing to peers can be a great way to build a supportive community at college. And it’s a way to practice self-advocacy when dealing with ADHD and college social life.
  • It can help you connect with other students who also have learning and attention differences. Knowing you’re not alone may boost your confidence.
  • Friends can also support your efforts. For example, if you can’t go to a party because you haven’t finished your work yet, they’ll understand instead of pressuring you.

Cons

  • Sharing important personal information with new friends can feel scary. You won’t know what their reaction will be until you do it. It may also expose you to other people’s misperceptions of what learning and attention issues are.

Things to know

  • Opening up about your learning and attention differences isn’t just about the support you can find. It’s an invitation for your friends to share their challenges as well.
  • You may find yourself in a position where you can help and support other students in similar situations. That can be a very enriching experience.

Making the transition to college can be harder for students with learning and attention differences. Disclosing your issues allows you to get as much support as possible. Talk over the pros and cons of navigating your ADHD and college life with your parents or other trusted adults. Their continued support is as important as ever as you take this exciting step forward.  For more information, visit Set to Go and take a look at our resources and tools.

By Rae Jacobson, Understood.org


Reprinted courtesy of Understood.org © 2015 Understood, LLC. All rights reserved.

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