I was so nervous, my heart could have very well popped out of my chest. It was my first day of freshman orientation at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma Washington. As I walked into the beautiful, huge brown brick building on campus for a seminar held by the University's Office of Accessibility and Accommodation, I could barely speak. The first thing I noticed was how many students were already in the room and how many more filed in over the course of 10 minutes. There was food and drinks, but I could not even think of eating.
As a teen with ADHD, or an ADDYTeen, getting through high school with good grades and good scores was challenging. Getting into a top flight school like the University of Puget Sound was even harder. After planning, organizing and working hard for years, my dad and I were welcomed, went through the double doors and experienced the day I had been thinking about for years.
There were 20 rows of chairs, each row had more than a dozen seats which were fast filling up with kids and their parents. As I learned in high school, always get a good spot where you can see clearly and are not distracted. I took a seat in the front. Soon, every seat was taken and there were probably another 40 people standing in the rear. Our freshman class size is less than 600, and there were about 6,000 applicants for acceptance. All of these kids are smart and capable or they would not be here, so you can understand how amazing and a little overwhelming it was for me to see how many kids in my freshman class registered for accommodations. We were all there together, in a group. Compared to high school, where all things related to your 504/IEP are confidential, it was quite a different experience. I was sweating.
We were welcomed by Peggy Perno, the director of the Student Accessibility and Accommodation, who started to explain the differences between high school accommodations and those you receive in college. Here are the three most important facts ADDYTeens should know.
First, ADDYTeens accepted into college met "the same standards" as everyone else. In high school, each student has the legal right to an education. In college this is not true -- you have to earn it. By your acceptance, you have.
Second, in high school, because school is mandated by law, it is the school's responsibility and teachers' job to educate and support you until you are completed in their course. For those ADDYTeens with accommodations during high school, the teachers worked with you and the administration to make sure you as a student were supported and provided the aid for success.
Third, since college is not mandatory and there is no legal right to college education, each student has the right to equal access to all services provided by the college. Educational assistance, aid, support and attention for each student will be given only when requested. Keyword: REQUESTED. Now that I am in college, it is my job to get what I need, when I need it, to succeed academically. That is true in college, and that is true in life. All of this is summarized in the chart I placed on my site, www.addyteen.com, which was given to me upon arrival.
Hearing all of this for the first time was scary. Like most ADDYTeens, I have always felt supported by my parents and teachers but in this moment, in this beautiful grand building, I felt alone and isolated. I looked around and studied the faces in the room. All of the students' eyes were glued to the speakers and listening for a special word that would give them "the key" to success in college. Most of us had a look I would describe as "hopeful." The real message Peggy Perno delivered to us was simple: you are "the key" to your own success.
Now, a few weeks later, I have (mostly) stopped sweating and can see now in hindsight why the smart folks at the University of Puget Sound decided to hold the accommodations meeting before any other part of orientation. It was to set expectations, and help us understand that we are the primary driver of our own educational success. It was held in a big room, rather than privately, so we could all look around and see who else is challenged by these issues. My roommate was there, and I am fairly sure we are paired up because we can empathize and support each other as we face our academic challenges. My roommate and I both know that 20 pages of intense reading requires far more effort from us than it does from many other students and we need to be quiet while we are studying.
I make great use of the resources provided by the University, including resources for support, guidance and accommodations. I visit my professors and check to make sure my concepts for papers are on track and to confirm how best to prepare for an exam. I work with other students in groups, and study countless hours. I get nervous, I panic and then I calm down and get on with my work. These are the experiences I expect other ADDYTeens are or will be experiencing during their first weeks at colleges all around the country. Here is my advice: stay focused, stay strong and be brave. What worked in high school to improve your studies, outcomes on tests and ability to focus works in college too. The primary difference is that you are in charge.