It’s September and the start of another school year. Seniors are getting in last college visits and preparing their applications. Juniors and their families are preparing to start, or are into, the college search process. This summer, Nina Berler, my good friend and founder of unCommon Apps, interviewed me about questions parents of students with ADHD or other learning differences should ask when touring colleges. This interview was originally posted onwww.myuncommonapps.com. Many thanks to Nina for allowing me to repost this interview and its very important information.

The summer before junior or senior year of high school is a popular time to check out colleges. Typically, when a family tours a college campus, it listens to a pitch from an admissions officer and joins a group led by a designated undergrad. Usually, prospects hear about the class profile, fun traditions, and sports teams and ask about class size, job placement, food quality, and roommate matching.

Certainly, these are all important considerations. But what happens when a student has been diagnosed with ADHD or another learning difference? While parents may have played a key role as their students’ advocates, their teens will soon be independent. Can the college provide necessary accommodations, and will students be able to rise to the occasion once they leave home?

Romaney Berson, a life coach with specialization in ADHD, executive function issues, organization and time management believes that the college visit represents an unmatched opportunity to ask the right questions. Recently, unCommon Apps sat down with Berson, a Duke and Harvard Law School grad and mother of two based in Summit, New Jersey.

Romaney Berson, ADHD Coach

Are colleges that prominently display support services and mentoring necessarily better than those that don’t?

“Just because a school doesn’t advertise, it doesn’t mean they don’t have good services or accommodations available. You have to know your child and have some sense of the level of support that they’re going to need. By all means look at schools such as the University of Denver, Marist College, Lynn University, Curry College, Bryant University and the University of Arizona. In addition, some schools provide specialized services available to all students that greatly benefit students with ADHD and other learning differences. One example is Tulane’s Success Coaching Program. But the college experience is a mix of a wide variety of factors, so don’t limit yourself at the outset.”

Should I ask questions during the information session?

“Most definitely ask about a school’s resources and accommodations when it’s question-and-answer time. If an admissions representative makes himself or herself available after the information session or tour, take advantage of this opportunity if you don’t get called on or want more detailed information.”

What is the one question you should be sure to ask a tour guide?

“On tour, learn as much about the advising system as possible. This is important for two reasons. Academic advisors aren’t necessarily told about advisee’s diagnosed disabilities, especially in this age of privacy concerns. At some schools, advising means a short session with your student once a semester prior to registration. An uninformed advisor can mean your child is set up to fail before they even walk onto the campus.”

What happens if my student falls in love with a college that doesn’t have many services?

“First and foremost, you have to know your child. If you feel like your child could be successful at the school but you wish there were better services, you do what so many of us do when our kids are in high school: you supplement and look for outside support such as a coach, tutor, psychologist or psychiatrist. In today’s technological world, most students are never in the same place physically with their coach or other support provider. You figure out what your child is going to need, and you line it up. This is where doing the homework on the schools and what they provide ahead of time can benefit you; you won’t have to scramble to put something in place just before your student arrives on campus.”

There are two terms commonly used with students having executive function issues like ADHD: resources and accommodations. How do they differ?

“Resources include extra-help services such as writing workshops, math help, tutoring centers, and a staff of mental health professionals. Accommodations are different and result from passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  A student has to apply or make a request to get these accommodations once he or she gets admitted to a college; some schools require approval on a semester or annual basis. Typically, students need to submit a professional diagnostic testing report, among other requirements, to be granted some level of accommodation. If you don’t have professional testing, don’t necessarily despair. Some schools say they will review accommodation requests without formal testing reports.”

How do accommodations at the high school and college levels compare?

“The majority of colleges offer far more than high schools, for example, providing note-takers and allowing students to record classes. Always be sure to look at all accommodations a school offers. ”

Should ADHD parents and students check out additional resources while on campus?

“Before you go on your trip, set up an appointment with the office for disability services or other office responsible for accommodations.

Don’t leave without getting information on how to apply for accommodations, what accommodations are offered, whether there is an additional fee for accommodations and, most importantly, what your student has to do to utilize accommodations once granted.

Foreign language learning is particularly challenging for ADHD students, for example, so be sure to ask about requirements and support in this regard. Ask where on the website information about resources and accommodations is located.  At the very least, you want to ask these questions when they apply or certainly when they accept.”

How do you feel about gap years for students with ADHD and/or executive function disorder?

“A gap year can be a tremendous benefit for any student, not just those with ADHD or other learning differences. The transition to college is difficult in many ways, and not all students are prepared for it upon graduation from high school. If you or your child have any doubts about readiness for college, by all means consider a gap year. A post-graduate year, work experience, volunteering and other opportunities may be just what your student needs. Considering a gap year does not necessarily mean you put off applying to colleges. Many schools allow admitted students to defer their admission for a year. It is best to speak with your student’s college counselor about this option.”

With the transition to a more open class schedule, the expectation to meet specialized office hours, the temptation of extracurriculars, late nights and parties, not to mention having to deal with real life responsibilities such as laundry and getting to meals, time management is a stretch for the best of entering college freshmen. But for students with issues such as ADHD, the tasks may seem insurmountable. Moreover, the number of students diagnosed with executive function disorders continues to grow. According to the 2014 National College Health Assessment, a research survey organized by American College Health Association, 7.8 percent of students reported ADHD alone. Comments Berson, “Self-advocacy is one of the most important skills your child is going to have to learn.” Hopefully by asking the right questions and checking out resources while on campus, you can help your student find the place where he or she can maximize his or her college experience.

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