ADHD in the Post-Secondary Education System

Students in post-secondary education that have ADHD, or think they may have ADHD please also access information under Getting Started – Adolescent/Post-Secondary. If your medical professional will be writing a report required by your post-secondary institution outlining your need for accommodations, please print out and give them the chart and instructions below.

Post-secondary institutions and decision makers: Please access these two documents; Key messages on ADHD reporting to post-secondary educational institutions of impairments by medical experts. Please also access the complete paper, Understanding ADHD as a Disability in the Post-Secondary Environment

Medical Professional and post-secondary Institutions: For a detailed list of appropriate accommodations linked to specific impairments please access ADHD Symptoms and Impairments in the Post-Secondary Environment/Appropriate Accommodations

For instructions on how to use this chart when writing a report for a post-secondary institution requesting accommodations access Chart Instructions

ADHD in the Post-Secondary Environment

For most people with ADHD symptoms and impairments continue into adolescence and adulthood. These impairments can significantly impact a student’s functioning in the post-secondary setting. The good news is that many more students with ADHD are now able to qualify for entry into post-secondary learning institutions, due to the advances in awareness, diagnostic procedures and the care and support of children and adolescents with ADHD. However, since impairments continue, most will still require appropriate services and learning accommodations be put in place in academic settings. Post-secondary students with ADHD will exhibit marked functional impairments in organizational and time management skills, note taking; reading comprehension; written expression; and keeping track of materials, despite their success in gaining entry to post-secondary institutions. These impairments often result in incomplete and late assignments, which in turn frequently lead to students with ADHD becoming easily over-whelmed and anxious. Some students are able to function well enough in elementary or even high school when supports are in place and academic loads were lighter, but once challenged to a greater degree their impairments become evident. These students will need to be assessed and diagnosed once in the post-secondary education setting.

While students with ADHD may present with significant difficulties in executive function, memory, learning, and speed of information processing, ADHD is not medically categorized or recognized as a learning disability, but rather a mental health or neurodevelopmental disorder. However, it is imperative to note that without assistance many students with ADHD – not just those with a concurrent Learning Disability – are at high risk for academic underachievement or failure despite having average or above average intellectual abilities.

Accommodations

Unfortunately ADHD and its resulting impairments continue to be inadequately understood by post-secondary institutions. This has resulted in some of these institutions demanding that students with ADHD undergo unreasonable costly testing in order to be identified as having a disability. All current Clinical Practice Guidelines for ADHD (including the Canadian guidelines), as well as the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for ADHD, require evidence that the symptoms impair social, academic, or occupational functioning. Thus, evidence of impairment is one of the required diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

However, a diagnosis of ADHD alone (even if it indicates impairment) is not sufficient for documenting impairment as required by Post-Secondary Education institutions, which require evidence that the person’s functional limitations impact academic performance. In addition, the Canadian government requires that impairment in post-secondary students be a permanent disability that impacts functioning in the post-secondary setting. Since persistent functional impairments such as poor organizational and time management skills, difficulty with note-taking, reading comprehension and written expression constitute a permanent disability, ADHD clearly qualifies as such.

Currently, there are no agreed-upon national or provincial standards for assessment and documentation practices to assure fair access to accommodations and services in post-secondary education for students with ADHD.  There is inequity across and within Canadian Provinces, with some post-secondary institutions requiring similar documentation for ADHD and for Learning Disabilities: that is, they require neuropsychological or psycho-educational testing to determine the severity of ADHD and to quantify the impact of ADHD on cognitive or academic functioning.

The demand that students entering post-secondary education require psychoeducational testing and reporting that indicates a disability is unreasonable or valid, since few if any of the tests used quantify accurately cognitive or academic impairments that caused by ADHD.

Since a detailed report by an ADHD medical expert would be required to meet Canadian government requirements and provide post-secondary institutions with the necessary information they require to understand the student’s unique impairments and need for accommodations, CADDAC has produced some guidelines and a tool to assist medical experts on how to write these reports.

This report should:

  • Identify the permanent disability and list specific impairments
  • Indicate how these impairments would negatively impact functioning of the student in the post-secondary academic setting
  • Link requested accommodations to existing impairments of the student

For full details on how to write the report please access the Impairment chart and instructions listed at the top of this page.