When I Found the Courage to Seek Accommodations as a University Student With ADHD

Angel Pilkin
Round bookshelf in university library.

Undergraduate school was hectic with ADHD, as was community college. I am now a graduate student working on two master’s degrees and I finally had the courage to ask for disability accommodations after being turned down at the community college level when I was seeking my associate’s degree.

My fear that I would be turned down for accommodations once I was studying for my bachelor’s degree cost me the ability to graduate with honors. I finished my undergraduate degree with a 3.5 GPA but honors is 3.67 or higher. I fought daily in undergraduate school to focus on my assignments with my ADHD interfering with many of my planned times to do assignments. I still refused to ask for the accommodations I needed so badly.

In reality, it was because I had something to prove to everyone who doubted I would be able to even attend college due my ADHD. The naysayers had said my associate’s degree was a fluke, and declared, “An associate’s degree is not that impressive! A real degree is a bachelor’s!” I heard this even after I enrolled in undergraduate school with constant reminders from certain people that if I got accommodations, I was not really “earning it.” I would scurry past the disability office every single time I came to classes, looking away so I would not even think about going inside and seeing what had to be done for me to obtain accommodations.

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The first class I failed in undergrad due to this was my junior seminar. I needed those accommodations not just for my ADHD, but other issues as well, and my sheer refusal was holding me back. I refused to go to a location for a group project that was in an area I could not reach by bus. My professor had allowed one girl in the class to select the program and it happened to be in an area not serviced by bus. I do not own a car. I told them I could not make it and could not afford a cab. I was told either I attend or fail. In my ADHD-induced anger, I told her, “Well, you will have to fail me.” If I had accommodations at this time she would have had to give me an alternative assignment that I could do since my ADHD is a factor in why I am still learning to drive. I got a 69 percent in the class. I needed 70 percent or higher to not need to retake the class. I did not request accommodations after this happening.

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The second class I failed was another required class. I failed because my ADHD got me distracted one day and I ended up in the hospital from a serious fall. My professor allowed me to make up the midterm I missed. The midterm grade I got was a B. I made an A on the final exam. I turned in several assignments late that the professor allowed for because I clarified I had been in the hospital and showed documentation. Normal procedure would have been to allow me full credit for those assignments. My professor, however, failed me by one point, saying, “It is not fair to other students not to take off some points from your grade to reflect the fact that these assignments were late.”

I did not know at the time I could have fought the grade and won. I could have gotten an incomplete awarded, retaken the class at no cost with a different professor, and even filed a formal complaint against the professor. I did not need disability accommodations for this, just the hospital discharge papers. But I took the grade, moved on, and went to rebuilding my GPA. I still did not request disability accommodations.

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I never failed another class in undergrad after these. I earned a C in one class, but I still passed. In March of 2019 I graduated with a 3.5 GPA after bringing my GPA back to an acceptable standard by graduation time. I had applied for acceptance to graduate school several months prior to graduation at my university. I worked at the university as a student worker, and was informed of my acceptance to both of my master’s programs before I graduated. My acceptance letter was given to me in the hallway and mailed to me as well.

Upon being notified of my acceptance, I reflected on the classes I had failed at the undergraduate level because I refused to get the accommodations I badly needed. I knew only one or two letter grades of C would be accepted towards my master’s degrees. I went to disability services without hesitation and asked them what was needed for me to get accommodations.

My community college prior to enrolling at university had a doctoral student in psychology interview me, and I had to take inkblot tests, recall letters, numbers and words as part of a psychological evaluation for my disability. My current doctor-based psychological, as well as physical disabilities, were not a consideration. I was denied accommodations and given a copy of their evaluations in which the student and her supervising psychologist said they saw no need for me to have accommodation. I was terrified this was going to be the case at my university for graduate school. I was wrong.

The disability coordinator instructed me to take the paperwork she gave me to my doctor and have the doctor fill out the forms. No psychological evaluation was done by a doctoral student and her supervising psychologist. I did as requested, and I was approved for disability accommodations including the recording of lectures, long test times, being allowed to miss for chronic illness without losing class participation points, and much more. I walked up the hallway with my approved disability accommodations papers in my hand, sat down with my face to the wall and cried.

I cried because I could have graduated with honors if I’d had a few simple forms. I cried because my community college had made it almost impossible to get accommodations, making be scared at the university level for so long. And I cried out of happiness, because I knew my accommodations would help greatly in my pursuit of two master’s degrees. I also cried for the sheer fact that I knew some of my struggles came from my own unwillingness to accept that I needed accommodations at the undergrad level, due to bullying from those I rarely have contact with now.

My first semester of graduate school was the summer of 2019. I earned a 3.5 GPA. and in the fall of 2019, I pulled a 4.0 GPA. I am in my third semester of graduate school with a cumulative 3.83 GPA, and aiming for a 3.88 GPA after the spring 2020 semester ends. That would mean a 4.0 GPA for the spring of 2020. I have used my accommodations. I record my lectures and make notes after class. If can’t pay full attention I use a device to hold my cellphone and record my lecture and scribble what I can hear the professor say in my notebook. I also work as a graduate assistant and use this to build my assignments up, and take notes from my recorded lectures in my downtime.

I am now fully aware I should have requested my accommodations for my disabilities long ago. I hope nobody else makes the same mistakes I have.

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