Why You Need ADHD Accommodations in Post Secondary Education



If you have ADHD, you are not getting out of the starting gate at the same time as everyone else. It may take you longer to process what you learn in class. It may take you longer to focus and complete a test. Accommodations are adjustments made to your learning so you are on an even playing field with your classmates.

Sometimes college students with ADHD tell me they feel uncomfortable asking for accommodations, feeling like they don’t deserve them. You have just as much of a right to accommodations as anyone else with a disability. At least get accommodations on board. It’s better to have them and not need to use them to not have them at all.

How to get help in college when you have ADHD

Here are recommendations for getting accommodations in college. (Note that private colleges or universities are only required to meet federal accommodation guidelines if they receive any federal funding, including Pell Grants.)


1. Apply for accommodations as soon as you get accepted to your college. How do you know you might need accommodations for ADHD? If any of the following apply to you:

  • You had accommodations in high school or at another college and found them to be necessary for you to work to your ability or potential;
  • You have tried seeking “informal” accommodations or exceptions on your own, and you are facing challenges;
  • In order to work to your ability or potential, you need extra time on standardized tests;
  • You feel your college experience will be more frustrating or even detrimental to your well-being if you don’t have additional help.


2. The Office for Student Disabilities Services website will let you know what you need to provide in order to apply for accommodations. Go online to your university and look up “disability services,” “student disabilities,” or similar wording. This tends to include:

  • A report from a clinician with testing and a diagnosis of ADHD, along with recommended accommodations. (Be aware that the report no longer needs to be completed within the last 5 years. Any report during your lifetime, as long as it meets the Office for Student Disability Services criteria, should be accepted.)
  • Your IEP or Section 504 plan from high school (If applicable. If you have not received accommodations before, that is perfectly okay.)
  • A list of requested accommodations.


3. Accommodations to consider are:

  • Extended time on tests. This is usually equal to “time and a half.” If you plan on applying for accommodations for graduate school exams such as the LSAT, MCAT, GRE, or GMAT, you must already have had accommodations in place for college.
  • Testing in a separate and quiet location.
  • Having a notetaker in class. (This is done anonymously.)
  • Getting priority registration. This means you get “first dibs” on classes. The smaller the class size, the better chances you have of paying attention and processing information. It also means that if you have a lot of difficulty waking up in the morning due to sleep issues (as do a majority of people with ADHD), priority registration enables you to register for late-morning or afternoon classes.
  • Having all class instructions written out for you.
  • Permission to record lectures, and access to recording equipment through the Office for Student Disabilities Services.
  • A reduced course load—taking part-time classes and having them count as full-time.
  • Altered test formats—if you have a learning disability along with ADHD (as is the case with 50% of people with ADHD) and you meet the criteria for a learning disorder such as dyslexia, you may be able to have your tests read to you or you may be able to dictate the answers. Keep in mind that standardized tests for graduate school may not allow these options.


4. If you are not given accommodations, you do have the right to appeal the decision. For more information on the appeals process, see the Office for Student Disability Services at your college or university.

It is important that you have accommodations even if you think you may not need them your first semester. It is a lot easier to go ahead and already have extended time on a test rather than realize there’s no way you’re going to have enough time to complete a test next week.


Fear of Recovery: Getting Better Can Bring on Anxiety

It came up in a conversation I had recently that with depressionbipolar disorder, or other longstanding mental illness, feeling better, or “good,” may feel alien and uncomfortable.  At least at first.  For this reason some of us have an underlying fear of getting better, a fear of recovery.  How can this be?  Isn’t that the ultimate goal, to feel better?

First, you have to remind yourself that fears are feelings, surrounded by unhelpful thoughts; they are not facts.  That takes some of the power away from them.  You can learn to manage your feelings of fear of getting better just as any other feelings in your life.  As you do so, pay attention to the strong effects of fear, as it can get in the way of your recovery.

When you are immersed in an illness like depression or bipolar disorder for a long time, the illness causes you to have a view of yourself and adopt certain behaviors that then become familiar.  It becomes a sense of “normal,” where you know how to do “that.”  Feeling “good” is new and different and may feel uncomfortable at first.  You are not used to it and may feel anxious or irritable.  The depressed brain sees feeling good as different and “not right” so the tendency is to go back—back to the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of depression or anxiety.  Feeling depressed may feel safer and more comfortable than risking the new territory of wellness, which has a new set of feelings, thoughts, behaviors and expectations.   But wait, let’s think about this for a minute.

What exactly is recovery?  One way to think about it is that recovery is the ongoing process of gaining control over your life after receiving a psychiatric diagnosis and all losses associated with that diagnosis, such as the loss of friendships or financial savings.  Recovery has been defined by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential” (SAMHSA, 2011).  This implies that recovery is something do-able, an ongoing process where you have a say in defining what your own improvement will look like and be.  This is good.

Recovery also means leaving the familiar illness and “life as you know it now” behind, venturing into the world of wellness that is uncertain and unfamiliar to you.  That can be scary.  You might feel anxious, irritable, feel like retreating back to your old depressed self.   You don’t know what to expect, especially if you’ve had trouble remembering what you were like before the depression began.  So some people may feel more comfortable keeping things as they are, staying with the familiar.  I urge you not to do this.

When depression symptoms improve or go away, some might fear that you’d be leaving a hole in the way you think and act and view the world, believing that you won’t know how to course through life in any different way.  You will, though, because along the way you will have learned to replace the depression symptoms with a more positive view of yourself and the world, and then you can approach life more confidently.

It takes a lot of work to get better.  There is major effort required, and energy you feel you may not always have.  So you have to push yourself, push yourself beyond this, and eventually you will adjust to the idea of feeling better.  After all, this is your ultimate goal.  Don’t give up on yourself!

Here are some easy steps to help you better recognize your fears and address them.  Write your answers down on a piece of paper and think about it for a little while…

  • Identify your fear
  • Think about how it makes you feel (afraid, anxious, etc.)
  • What are the thoughts you have associated with your fear?
  • What are the benefits of staying in your old comfort zone?
  • What are the costs of staying in your old comfort zone?
  • Identify a few small steps to help you confront these feelings and negative thoughts
  • Identify the support people you need to help you face your fear
  • Begin with a few of the small steps you just identified


ADHD in Girls


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in girls is often misdiagnosed, potentially leading to mental health issues later in adulthood.  Girls with ADHD often present the condition differently than boys, which can lead to potentially missing the diagnosis.

“Almost every year in the [report card] comments, regardless of the subject, it would say Anna needs to focus more, she has trouble paying attention.” - Anna, 17-year-old high school student in Toronto with ADHD 


According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, boys are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder than girls.

Increasingly doctors and researchers who study the condition believe those numbers can mean girls are being underdiagnosed with ADHD or misdiagnosed altogether, because ADHD can look so very different in girls than it does in boys.  What’s more important, is that mental health experts say misdiagnosing or missing an appropriate diagnosis of ADHD in girls can lead to further mental health issues in adulthood.

Listen to an episode of CBC’s The Current discuss this issue by clicking here.





Depression is more than just sadness.  People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or weight gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression is a very common mental health issue, but fortunately, depression is treatable.  A combination of psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy can help ensure recovery.


What You Can Do In The Meantime

Social isolation increases the risk of depression; however, spending too much time discussing problems with friends could actually increase depression as well.

Exercise is an effective, cost-effective treatment for depression and may help in the treatment of other mental disorders.

Getting Help

If you’re struggling to get by day to day, finding a therapist can seem like an overwhelming challenge.  If you are ready to take the next step forward in your life, finding the right person to support you can make all the difference.

Depression is a real illness and carries with it a high cost in terms of relationship problems, family suffering, and lost work productivity.
Nevertheless, depression is a highly treatable illness through psychotherapy, increasing coping skills, medication, and cognitive-behavioural techniques.