This article deals with internal and external coping strategies necessary if students with learning disabilities, including attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are to succeed in college. The authors review the current situation faced by these students and then outline various coping strategies that have proved successful for students during their college years.
The foundation for this article was a presentation by a college student with learning disabilities to a Delta Kappa Gamma chapter* The student came to understand what was necessary to cope and succeed in college, namely that the most important accommodations were ones she had to make within herself. For example, she learned it is actually more important to take the time needed to prepare for a test than to depend on teachers giving more time to take tests. This article summarizes her thoughts after she succeeded in college as an individual with disabilities. Her aunt, a university professor with 20-plus years working with college students with learning disabilities and other specialized educational needs, helped the student - now a graduate - polish this written version of her experience to help ease the way for other college students, their families, and their professors.
Many observations in this article are based on the combined personal experiences of the graduate and her mentor-aunt. Both have talked and worked extensively with students and others who have learning disabilities - individuals who were invaluable sources of information on personal coping methods that work.
The Current Situation
Today many freshmen entering college have learning disabilities, but they can still reasonably expect to have success in their academic endeavors even though it may not be an easy task. These students may have to work twice as hard as students without disabilities to maintain the grade point average needed to remain in school. Nevertheless, the success of many of these students clearly demonstrates that academic success is possible in spite of learning disabilities.
Most professors now understand the challenges students with learning disabilities may encounter and are willing to work with them to overcome these difficulties. Of course, knowledge of problems by the students and their professors does not make these challenges disappear, and students with learning disabilities too often find the transition from the more structured high school environment to a college setting (which can be difficult even for students with no learning problems) particularly daunting. Students new to college are in a strange setting, without the support of family and friends, and find themselves in the position, many for the very first time, of needing to advocate for themselves. Their professors must be made aware of their difficulties before any necessary accommodations can be given.
These students time and again require personal and institutional adjustments if they are to remain and - even more importantly - succeed in college. Furthermore, it is the students who must take the initiative and learn to advocate for themselves - requesting modifications in learning environments, adopting new personal strategies and work habits, and, if necessary, seeking medical help to cope with college work.
A combination of external and internal coping methods is usually the most effective way for these students to adapt to the new environment, and implementing these strategies should begin before the first class. Once students have class schedules, they should meet with their professors to explain in detail their needs and any physical accommodations necessary in the classroom. Discussing learning disabilities with professors is of paramount importance, At this time, they can also present a letter verifying their disability from student support services, now part of the academic structure at most colleges and universities. …