Challenges of Being a Student with a Learning Disability

Ally Woods, a junior, speaks about her experience as a college student with ADD. (Photo by Elisabeth Shirley)

By Elisabeth Shirley

College is a new world of responsibilities that involves transitioning from living at home with guidance from family and teachers to acting as an independent adult. For those with learning disabilities, that transition can make it more difficult to succeed in college the same way their peers do.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 18% of children 3-17 years old have a developmental disability, a percentage that has increased over two time periods studied from 2009–2011 and 2015–2017.

Ally Woods, a junior who transferred to Flagler College this year, was diagnosed with ADD in late elementary school and has taken notice on how it affects her life.

“My ADD affects me more cognitively than it does hyperactively. I think the number one thing that affects me daily is forgetting things. I really have to triple check everything before leaving,” Woods said.

As an independent student, Woods has noticed how having her mom around made an impact on her grades before college.

“I was definitely a better student elementary through high school because I didn’t have as much responsibility. It’s really a lot trying to schedule myself.”

If classes weren’t enough to worry about, Woods also tries to maintain a social life, a job and working as a stylist for Strike Magazine while still making school a priority. The difficulty that comes with that is trying to do required work that isn’t necessarily interesting.

“It’s really difficult for me to even focus and do work outside of class, period. I really have to motivate myself,” Woods said. “Discussion posts are one thing that’s not intriguing to me at all. It doesn’t do anything for me, so I never have the motivation to do them.”

For Cassidy Sullivan, a former Deaf Education and English major at Flagler, the biggest symptoms of her autism that she deals with daily are anxiety, sensory issues, depression and overall failure to interact socially.

“College felt like high school,” she said. “I didn’t connect well with any of classmates or roommates. I was often alone. My autism makes me feel like an alien, like everyone knows what to do and say but me.”

A crucial part of college, Sullivan said social interactions were extremely difficult for her. Making friends was hard, as she couldn’t tell when others wanted to talk outside of class.

“Huge events freaked me out, but I knew a certain number of attendance points were required, which was hard to handle as I didn’t want to go to the events due to anxiety.”

Having not been diagnosed until after leaving Flagler, Sullivan didn’t have the help she needed to succeed in school.

“I had no clue about my diagnosis at the time so I didn’t know why I wasn’t able to balance my classes and class work or handle presentations, and I found myself often dropping classes when it got too hard,” she said.

For students like Woods, prescription medication can help alleviate symptoms, but she said that even that can be a part of the challenge.

“You’re trying to make medicine to help you concentrate, but then you can’t even remember to take that medicine,” Woods said.

Woods says that the most important part is accepting that you need help. After that, many people are ready and willing to help you excel.

To find information about Flagler College’s Disability Resource Center and what resources are available to you as a student, click here.

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