I noticed the problem during my very first college final. 

Despite the hours of time I had to take the multi-part exam, I found myself sweating and panicking as I neared the last twenty minutes and still had an entire essay question to finish. I looked up from my paper every time a student stood to turn in their test, and with every cough and sniffle, I lost my train of thought. It wasn’t the first time I had this problem, but it was definitely the most obvious.

After some discussion with my parents and friends, I turned to the Disability Resource Center (DRC).

“Well, I would say you have ADHD.” 

The DRC is an on-campus service that aids students with physical and mental disabilities through case managers and accommodations.

The Diagnosis left me disappointed as I realized that years of being called “lazy” or being asked why I wasn’t doing my work to my fullest potential, failures, bad grades and blaming myself for my mistakes, could have been avoided had someone recognized my symptoms and I had received help sooner.

Women are routinely misdiagnosed with similar problems like Anxiety and Depression, or missed entirely as many people recognize ADHD symptoms that occur commonly in men. Hyperactivity is one example of this. While particularly young boys display extreme hyperactivity, girls tend to display symptoms of inattentiveness which can go ignored by teachers and parents.

The potential diagnosis from the DRC was both eye-opening and disappointing. I was offered temporary accommodations for one quarter, and it made all the difference. I spent the quarter with a smaller testing room, extending testing time and a text to speech program to help with the issues I had been experiencing. 

But my frustrations weren’t over, as I was told I needed an official diagnosis to continue receiving DRC accommodations. Over the pandemic, I received an extremely expensive, official diagnosis and was recommended academic accommodations and medication. 

The first time I took that medication, I cried at the sudden ease of my everyday life. I was remembering deadlines and conversations that I never could, and I no longer had to fight my own brain to do the work I needed to. 

Remote learning threw me entirely new challenges. While the in-person accommodations I had been offered by the DRC made a world of difference, few were still applicable to remote learning.

I can remember the gut-wrenching feeling when I realized that I had missed a midterm because I swore it started at 3:00 and not 1:00. I can still feel the burning frustration and tears in my eyes as I realized I had missed another tiny detail that was hurting my grade, despite reading the assignment several times before submitting it. Or asking myself why I hadn’t watched any of the asynchronous lectures as I panicked in a final exam, or pulled all-nighters because I put off my essay. 

Without the structure and physical reminders of in-person classes, my motivation, attention span, and memory began to waver. The ability to schedule and motivate myself to do work outside of a deadline has much to do with executive dysfunction. Even on medication I still struggled to keep track of deadlines or get my body out of bed for class. I left Zoom calls confused and frustrated after realizing I had tuned out, not able to focus on the droning voices from my computer.

 Executive Dysfunction refers to a range of cognitive, behavioral and emotional challenges. It impacts my ability to prioritize work, control my behavior, or even think about how my decisions now will affect me later as well as lead to issues with attention and memory

Despite the access to an audio recording of a lecture, I did not have access to visual lecture tools due to a lack of video recordings. Providing Zoom lecture recordings as an accommodation would have helped me throughout all my online classes.

What I Think Would Help Students:

Luckily, some of my instructors offered breaks during their classes, an offer I wish was extended to all classes. Allowing our brains a moment to step away from the exhaustion of a Zoom lecture allows us to come to the classroom a bit more energized and more easily engage in the class. I noticed a significant difference in my engagement in classes with breaks versus those that went uninterrupted. 

Throughout my life, I’ve found it hard to keep track of time. Which means that deadlines often sneak up on me, or I think I have more time for an assignment than I actually do. Having a professional, provided by the DRC, who could assist with scheduling out work and lecture viewings would have helped not only with my timing issues, but also with my motivation to get my work done. 

With the online format, and having such a late diagnosis, I was still researching ways to battle my tendency to daydream during class or forget important details in this new learning environment. If I had access to course Zoom recordings, someone to help with scheduling, or even a platform for all of my assignments to be accessible in one place, I could have done so much better throughout online learning. 

With no updated accommodations from the DRC and a constantly changing learning environment, keeping up is more difficult than ever for students in need of accommodations. While students can do research on ways to cope with online learning, it would benefit us to have professionals by our sides.

Online learning has presented challenges for all kinds of students, regardless of disability. I was having to learn ways to cope with a disability I didn’t know I had until last year, while facing the same problems every other student was going through in online learning. 

It was frustrating that I had to fight so hard to get a diagnosis to work past my disability. And yet, when my learning environment changed — my accommodations didn’t.

A blonde cartoon holds a red toolbox proudly over her head. Surrounding her are circles containing a planner, medication for ADHD, a calendar, and more tools that she uses.

Ways I Helped Myself:

  • Keeping a fun, custom planner to fit my style of learning and keeping track of deadlines 
  • Alerting my instructors to my situation at the beginning of each quarter 
  • Making fake, earlier “due dates” to help me start on larger assignments sooner 
  • Checking on due dates and schedules on good days (i.e. is able to focus on school work) so I can remember them more easily on bad days
  • Setting alarms and reminders for big meetings or assignments 
  • Doing research into other ways I can help myself
  • Seeking professional help

How Instructors Can Help Their Students:

  • Constant reminders of major assignments or due dates during class time, preferably at the beginning when it is most likely to catch our attention 
  • Suggesting when students should start working on assignments or at what point of completion they should be at 
  • Making Zoom lectures easily accessible 
  • Keeping lectures, assignments, and agendas all in one place 
  • Letting students know you are open to communication