“I can sit and read for hours and hours and then if I look back on what I read, I won’t remember anything. Nothing.”
This is the experience of Elon senior Chelsea Jacobs sans Focalin – a medication similar to Vyvanse used to treat ADHD. She has been diagnosed with the disability since late high school, before which she can’t understand how she ever managed.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “When I think back to it now, I’ve always had a concentration problem. I just thought everyone else had the same troubles as I did.”
Though focusing is a common problem for many a college student, most – almost all, rather – are simply procrastinators. Without a deadline hurtling toward them, they can’t find the motivation to perform tasks they don’t want to do, schoolwork in particular. But when that deadline is around the corner, most students have the capability to kick it into gear and cut out distractions. This has led many to believe that ADHD doesn’t really exist as a disease, only as a perception. For Chelsea however, she doesn’t have that capability to buckle down. She’s one of the 3-5% of Americans who are mentally unable to focus without assistance.
“I can assure you that it’s an actual, real disability,” she said. “I’ve tried every other alternative and it doesn’t work.”
Then how did she get along for so long? She says it was because the high school curriculum simply wasn’t challenging. Though she had always had the disability, she was able to find ways around it in order to succeed. Elon University Physician Ginette Archinal explains that this is actually a common occurrence.
“One of the reasons so many students aren’t diagnosed until freshman or sophomore year of college is because many of them have developed coping mechanisms in their younger years in order to get over those hurdles,” she said. “But then you get to college, and all of the sudden the workload is very different, and those coping skills no longer apply. So measures are needed to be taken.”
For most, medication is the only measure needed in order for the patient to lead a normal life. For others, it’s only enough to allow them to scratch the surface that others are on top of. Chelsea is part of the latter group. Though Focalin allows her to follow class lectures and perform most of the work required in the classroom, when it comes to exams she’s in need of further assistance.
“If there’s a lot of pressure on me, I have mild panic attacks,” she said. “And that’s part of my severe case of ADHD. Even when I’m on medication, high pressure situations bring on unmanageable anxiety, and tests are one of the main causes.”
So during her first three semesters in college, which she spent at N.C. State, she was registered with Disability Services, where she was granted extended time and a “reduced distraction testing room” for her exams. She admits to being a bit apprehensive about having a registered disability, but she eventually let her ego go and accepted the help being offered to her. Though her anxiety and grades improved a little thanks to these services, she still didn’t feel as though she was on the same level as other students in terms of opportunities for success.
“I was given double the time and I was allowed to take my tests in a different room with about six or seven other students who had the same difficulties I had,” she said. “It was definitely an improvement, but I still felt I was at somewhat of a disadvantage. I wasn’t as comfortable as I could have been and I still suffered from occasional bouts of anxiety.”
It wasn’t until she came to Elon when those anxieties disappeared.
Chelsea transferred in the middle of her sophomore year due to a need for a smaller class and more personal interaction. Upon arriving at Elon, she registered for their Disability Services by simply presenting a document from her psychologist stating her diagnosis and the services she required, which included “100 percent extended time and silent testing.” Though Elon only offered a max of 50 percent extended time for ADHD patients, they granted her the full 100 percent based on her unique situation.
“They were very understanding,” she said. “I didn’t have to plead or anything. All I had to do was give them the note from my psychologist explaining the severity of my condition and they gave me exactly what I needed.”
As for her silent testing requirement, Elon’s interpretation of a “reduced distraction testing room” turned out to be far more beneficial than State’s. There, she would take her tests in a regular classroom with a handful of other students. Here, it’s only her in an office-sized room complete with a desk, a chair, a computer and even a noise-canceling machine in case the already tranquil environment proves to be too noisy, which it rarely does.
“I’m even allowed to bring my noise-canceling headphones and whatever else I need,” she said. “Compared to State, here is much more personal. They do whatever they can to ensure that I’m getting everything I need to succeed.”
Since she made the switch to Elon, Chelsea has yet to have a panic attack and has seen her grades improve dramatically. She’s planning to apply to medical school after she graduates, something she says she would never have had a chance at doing without the services provided to her by Elon.
“If I had stayed at State, I definitely wouldn’t be on my way to medical school,” she said. “I just didn’t feel as though I was given the same opportunities as other students, whereas here I know I’m on equal footing.”
The Disabilities Services where Chelsea and others do their work is located in Academic Advising, where there are four rooms designated for test taking. It’s a simple process: the student walks to the building with their test in a sealed envelope, takes the test, then walks it back to their teacher in a resealed envelope. Chelsea says she’s had a few teachers who object to her special test-taking circumstances, but in the end they’ve never refused to give her the permission that she doesn’t need.
“It’s part of the Disabilities Service mission statement,” she said. “So as long as I’m registered with them with a legitimate reason, that’s all I need. Some teachers might think it’s a bit weird, and it probably is. But it’s not like I’m receiving any advantage. I’m already at a disadvantage with a severe case of ADHD. This is just bringing me back to level ground.”