College Students with Special Needs

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Medical leave for mental issues - ADA?

Oct 2011

Has anyone experience with invoking the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) for a college student for mental issues so the university will work with the student appropriately to obtain a medical leave of absence without triggering a re-admit process (UC)?

Some background: the student was experiencing academic stress due to problems managing a pre-existing sports injury (couldn't sleep due to pain) and was prescribed antidepressants by the health system. He had a serious reaction to the drugs. He's now off all the drugs they prescribed, but this resulted in some long-term mental issues (impaired concentration, emotional difficulty) and very poor school grades, so he left school to recover.

Now he's working full-time at a challenging job and rebuilding himself, but he's afraid the university will see his poor GPA and say ''Sorry Charlie''. He needs time to heal and would like a medical leave of 1 year. He's currently insured by his employer. What to do? Need Advice

Most, if not all, colleges have an office of disability services. This is the office that arranges for or facilitates adaptive technology, extended time on tests and other accommodations for students with physical and other disabilities. This could be one place to start - make an appointment and speak to them by phone or in person. Another option would be to call the deal of students directly and speak with them. As long as there is some documentation of disability they should be reasonable. They are usually more familiar with handling physical disabilities but the psych stuff comes up not infrequently. If you run into difficulty it might make sense to have a legal consultation or at least consult with a disability advocate. Ilene

You should contact the campus Disabled Students office and they should help you -- give you guidance and support. If not, contact Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (510) 644-2555 for help and/or further referral.

Dear Need Advice,

Wondering if you are this student's parent, friend or what your relationship is. Generally the college will deal directly with a student if they are over 18, or with a parent if the student is under 18 or has signed a waiver for the parent to communicate with the school on the student's behalf. It is just part of privacy laws today.

In our experience working with one UC campus ''ADA'' was not needed for a medical leave. Qualifying for a disability under ADA is an involved process, each UC Campus does have a service department for ADA and as colleges go I think each school in the UC System does a pretty good job.

However having a one time incidence may or may not qualify as a ''disability'' and you may be overreaching.

If he needs a medical leave work with his Dean of Students office as soon as possible to find out his current status, and what are the steps to follow. Probably the longer he takes off the more process involved. We had no problems when our student took a one quarter leave and resumed.

How did the student leave University? Did he drop classes or just leave? There is a process to leave ''cleanly'' due to personal or medical emergency so that needs to be addressed. Again the Dean of Students is probably the best place to start. You will find the contact info on your school's website or his enrollment packett if you went to Orientation. The Dean of Student's secretary or administrative assistant will likely also be the first person you talk to. Be prepared to take some notes when you call to get the information down.

Also read the school's website since their leave policies, procedures and forms are most likely all online. Generally they will also ask for doctors' or therapists' letters to confirm the need for medical leave.

It may also be okay to take time off for employment, so if that is really what is going on, check the website. Many students take time off to work and return to school. I have known ''ten year'' students all my life, though it is not the easiest way to finish a degree, it works better for some.

Again you won't know the answer to these questions unless you refer to the school administration itself. This list can only provide anecdotes and even if a UC advisor were on this list I doubt they could comment specifically on a private student matter.

Good luck and think positive, most of the school administrators at the UC level I have worked with are very professional. Hope for the best

College-bound teen with rheumatoid arthritis

March 2010

My 17-year-old daughter, who was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, will be heading off to an East Coast college this fall. She now has trouble with small motor skills and with lifting/carrying heavy objects (she's lost upper body strength now that she no longer has full use of her hands). She also isn't supposed to use alcohol because the drugs she's on put a heavy load on her liver. We're figuring out day-to-day accommodations at home but I'm wondering what kinds of challenges she'll have to navigate when she's on her own at college. She won't be able to carry stacks of books from class to class, keys and light switches can be problematic, and I'm worried how the winter cold will affect her. If you are or have been in a similar situation (with a college-bound child with RA, lupus, MS, or any other chronic condition that affects energy and mobility) I'd really appreciate hearing from you.

Hi I had a few suggestions for you. I am not sure who her pediatric rheumatologist is but they should be able to give you some of the information. Off the top of my head from dealing with other disorders in college.
1. she needs to contact the disability office asap for accomodations
2. she may need to be on a first floor of a dorm if it is a walk up. A letter from your doctor to the housing office or disability office will help.
3. does she need a special bathroom? does she need assistance with dressing and bathing? That depends on the degree of arthritis.
4. how does she do with cold and severe heat? She may need a dorm with air conditioning
5. may want a dorm near the gym because exercise is important with JRA
6. Disability office can help with providing note takers if she is unable to write or type fast enough. Sometimes they provide tapes of the class.
7. can she do lab science? PE requirement? etc
8. may be able to deduct cost of computer for college since essential for her health status.
9. electric blanket?
10.she may need driving to classes from security with flares. Most schools have this with a golf cart sort of thing. I would also suggest you log on to College Confidential website and ask the exact same question in the Parents cafe discusion section.
Pediatric Subspecialist

College son thinks he may have ADD

Dec 2009

My 19-year-old son came home from his second year of college to say that he experimented twice with Adderol, which made him feel ''normal'' and able to prioritize and focus -- for instance, able to outline and plan a paper, instead of panicky writing down multiple related thoughts, whatever came to mind, and trying to connect it up later. Now he wants to get officially diagnosed as ADHD for a mild prescription to improve his concentration. He's setting up the medical appointment. I'd just like to know if this sounds weird to others, and what I should do.

No professional ever previously said he should be tested for ADD or ADHD. His temperament is spontaneous and a little careless, though he can work hard. He's always been energetic, spirited, physical, verbal, easily bored (even bored with video games!), with a short attention span, but he did very well in HS and college. He loves people and has great guy friends, but has only short term girlfriends. He also smokes pot and drinks alcohol, I hope moderately (maybe an addictive personality-- maybe self-medicating-- maybe a typical frat boy). Any thoughts? Wondering mother

My child, a sophomore in College, was recently diagnosed with ADD. It is while in college that a student realizes that his/her learning skills are different from others: doing work at the last minute, having ''too many thoughts'' that prevent focusing, inability to organize work, and related anxiety. Have your child tested. If he is benefiting from Adderall in the way he says he does, he might very well have ADD. Parent of an adult ADD

It's a common misconception that people who have AD/HD don't do well in school. In fact, many do, but at a heavy price. AD/HD makes it harder and more stressful to do many things, including academic endeavors. It's a great idea that your son wants to get a professional evaluation instead of self-medicating or ''borrowing'' medication from others. If it turns out that his suspicions about himself are correct and he gets good treatment, he will have a much easier time living up to his full potential and he stands a good chance of having many fewer problems in his life. There is a new book by Russell Barkley called Adult ADHD, What the Science Says, which is the bible of research on this condition in adults. Check it out of the library if you want to know how it turns out for adults with the condition. It sounds like your son's life has been working pretty well so far -- but life gets more complicated as people get older and the toll taken by AD/HD can be harsh. Education is the first, and one of the most important, steps you can take to be helpful to your son. There are lots of readable books about adult ADHD! You can find them through the website of Good luck! Linda

ADD Diagnosis for college student

Oct 2001

Can anyone who has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD as an adult give me some idea of what kind of professional you approached to arrive at the diagnosis? and what kind of help was recommemded? drugs, strategies, etc. I have checked all the web sites, heck I wrote one for my young child who has ADHD, inattentive type. I need help for a young adult now who just feels unable to concentrate for long periods of time and just feels she doesn't get it the way others do because she somehow misses key info. She skated through BHS, now college is proving a serious challenge and she sees the difference close-up (dorm living) between what she can do and what the other kids seem capable of.

While I was in therapy it became apparent to my therapist and me that my husband has ADD. It took time, but he finally went to a psychiatrist (Dr. Wm. Dickman, (415) 922-9492 in SF). After meeting with both of us three times and filling out questionaires, he was diagnosed with ADD and given medication. We met a number of times since then to adjust the medication. This can be a long, frustrating process. Dr. Dickman suggested other therapy. We finally started marriage conseling about a month ago. I hope this leads to my husband getting individual therapy with emphasis on ADD, but he hasn't agreed to this yet. Most professionals I've talked to about this suggests that you need the combination of medication and therapy. In some ways it's not only phsychotherapy, but occupational therapy helping him cope with the consequences of the physical disorder in handling his day-to-day tasks. I know one brave woman who is coping with just behavioral changes and no medication, but I don't know how she manages. Again it is a long, hard process. We have been working on it for almost a year now. We've come a long way, but have a long way to go. I wish you luck. If you want to talk, please contact the moderator and I am happy to talk with you directly.

My husband was diagnosed with ADHD about 2 years ago (he's 48 now). As with the young adult you mentioned, he went through life feeling like he didn't get the whole picture. He was diagnosed by Dr. David O'Grady in Walnut Creek (phone number is 925-256-9696). O'Grady is a Ph. D. (psychologist or psychotherapist, I'm not sure) so he can diagnose and make recommendations, but he can't prescribe meds (you'll need to go to your primary care physician for that). I do think that he has a good approach to how to deal with ADHD and better organize your life. His wife, Dr. Susan O'Grady is also a counselor and specializes in ADHD. They have offices together.

My husband has been on medication since he was diagnosed and says they help him focus somewhat better (meds don't work for everyone). He also has seen a counselor, in conjunction with his medication. I think combining counseling and medication has the greatest impact on ADHD, or so I've read, but it is a personal decision the individual must be comfortable with.

As I understand ADHD, a consistent daily routine is the best approach for stabilizing the symptoms. Any change in lifestyle makes daily tasks more difficult. I'm guessing your friend is a freshman, which in itself is enough to make you feel like you don't get it! We also have a daughter in college (sophmore), so I know the experience can be very overwhelming. Please tell her she's not alone! If your friend would like to talk more, she's welcome to call or email me. Sue

Last year, I was diagnosed with a significant weakness in the area of auditory processing, as well as other strengths and weaknesses determined by a series of varied assessment tests. I was referred by the Disabled Student's Services office at UC Berkeley to Reach for Learning, on Marin Ave in Albany. The testing agency's phone number is 510-524-6455, speak with Corinne Gustafson, M.Ed., CET. Following the testing series, Ms. Gustafson provided me with a report that included; specific information on the evaluation, general educational suggestions and strategies, and other recommendations. Good luck to the young adult you write about. Ana

Learning differences and ADHD are different creatures. However, the Schwab Foundation has bunches of resources and ideas for adults with learning differences. You can reach them at the 1660 South Amphlett Blvd. Suite 200,San Mateo, CA 94402,+1 (800) 471-9545. Maybe she can gain some learning and organizational skills that will help her handle all the material she has to process and learn. It can be done! Dori