Opinions, Editorials

Boston College Should Provide More Support for Students with Learning Disabilities

The Connors Family Learning Center (CFLC) at Boston College must clarify the requirements to receive learning accommodations and provide resources to help students through the process. There must also be greater collaboration between different resource centers on campus to help students with learning disabilities access accommodations and create a supportive learning network. It is necessary to ensure that students with learning disabilities are given the appropriate assistance and support they need to succeed in college and beyond. 

Students diagnosed with a learning disability before college are able to receive accommodations through the federal Individualized Education Program Process (IEP), which provides them with a support system of educators, parents, and other students that help to accommodate their disabilities. The goal of an IEP is to meet students’ individual needs and prepare them for independence, according to its process guide. Upon entering college, however, this network dissolves. Postsecondary institutions are not required to offer the same level of comprehensive support or individualized plans for students. Students are left to their own devices to provide the University with updated documentation for accommodations and rebuild this support network. 

Students at Boston College who are diagnosed with a learning disability, Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) currently have access to accommodations through the Connors Family Learning Center (CFLC). Accommodations are provided on a case-by-case basis and may include extended testing times, test sites with reduced distractions, or early class registration pick times. 

The process of receiving accommodations, however, fails to take into consideration many of the symptoms of learning disabilities, ADD, and ADHD. Many students with learning disabilities, ADD, and ADHD have a difficult time paying attention, following directions, and staying organized. The CFLC’s website references vague and inconsistent requirements on multiple pages, necessitating proof of high school and standardized testing documentation on one page, and then clarifying that these are only requirements “if applicable” on another. For students struggling with organizational skills and maintaining attention, scattered and poorly communicated information is a huge barrier to access. 

According to the CFLC website, “to receive accommodations on the basis of ADHD, an assessment that measures the student’s current functional impact of ADHD on learning and/or testing is required.” These guidelines are too vague. The University should list the specific evaluations needed, where to receive them, and how to access financial support. For example, providing information about medical professionals who have worked with BC students in the past would help students take the first step in receiving accommodations. This would give students a clear path to follow. Receiving accommodations at BC should not be a matter of knowing where to look. 

Explicit evaluation requirements are especially important for students who have recently been diagnosed and are unfamiliar with the process of receiving accommodations. Though ADD/ADHD is widely perceived to be identified in early childhood, there are many young adults who function up to a certain point without realizing their symptoms until they hit a ceiling—such as attending college. These students may find themselves struggling to understand their condition and overburdened with the task of learning how to ask for help. 

This process is made even more difficult for students who feel they may be struggling with a learning disability or ADHD, but do not know how to get diagnosed. Students in this situation should be redirected to University Counseling Services (UCS), where they can sign up for a same-day consultation to receive further guidance. UCS’s staff and services are also strained, however, and this can result in students falling in between the cracks of different resource centers on campus. 

This disconnect between UCS and CFLC reflects a misunderstanding in the nature of learning disabilities, ADD, and ADHD. There is distinct overlap among learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD, and other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and they should not be regarded as mutually exclusive. 

Accommodations are only half of the battle. Understanding one’s condition, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and mastering self-advocacy techniques are crucial to a student’s success during college and beyond. Professors and researchers within the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, the Disability Services Office, UCS, and CFLC all provide resources to help students struggling with learning disabilities, ADD, or ADHD. While there may actually be healthy working relationships between these organizational bodies to evaluate a specific situation, this communication is not transparent to the student body.

Beyond clarifying the accommodations process and expanding its resources, the University must work to bridge the gap between these organizational bodies on campus. Within the BC community, existing systems like UCS and CFLC should work in conjunction to create more comprehensive disability services and improve communication with students. Including resources from across both websites will ensure that students are aware of all of the programs and accommodations available to them, as well as the staff members who can help. While there is always room for more resources, much of the support that students need is already here on campus, waiting to be fully utilized. Increased collaboration between UCS and CFLC will help ensure that BC successfully cares for the whole person and fulfills its Jesuit mission.

February 21, 2022