When Stephanie Mashburn walked into her fifth grade class after a visit to the doctor, she said she felt stupid. She had just been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.
“You feel like something is wrong with you,” Mashburn said. “You feel like you’re different in a negative way. No one wants to be ADHD or
[any] other kind of learning handicap.”
Mashburn, a senior marketing major, is one of more than 160 students assisted by Sam Houston State University who have a learning disability, ADD/ADHD or both, according to Services for Students with Disabilities.
These students face additional challenges when they study, take tests or exams, and concentrate during long classes.
“I have to go to the library,” Mashburn said. “I have to go to someplace where I’m not surrounded by things that can distract me.At my apartment, I start cleaning. Everyone says, ‘Oh, yeah, I do that too,’ but it’s not the same.”
The longest amount of time that she said she is able to study for is about 30 minutes alone.
“That is as big as my attention span is, so it’s hard to take a lot of classes that are offered,” Mashburn said. “A lot of my classes I struggle in because they are an hour and a half. That is a lot of time for someone to stay focused who has a learning disability.”
C. Kelly Osborn, Ph.D., director of Services for Students with Disabilities, said that students with learning disabilities have a harder time working through their classes.
“It definitely depends on the individual student and the disability they have,” Osborn said. “Most have to put in more effort and put in more time.”
National studies have also shown that it takes students with a learning disability longer to graduate because they have to take classes at a slower rate than non-disabled students.
According to the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1.2 percent of students with learning disabilities graduate in five years, while 2.4 percent graduate in 10 years.
According to a report in the Canadian Journal of Counseling, students with disabilities had identical grades and graduation rates, except that they took longer to graduate.
Mashburn said that, in addition to studying, she needs assistance in class and with tests.
She said that she has the choice to either focus on what the professor is saying during class or take notes, but that she can’t pay attention to both.
“I have a note taker in class and I get a copy of their notes,” Mashburn said. “That helps because I can focus on one thing rather than both, which I can’t do. It’s been really hard for me; it has taken six years for me to graduate if that puts it into perspective.”
In that time, she has had to re-take many classes. She said that this is not because she is dumb, but because of her chronic anxiety overwhelming her on testing days.
“All of my classes just focus on tests,” Mashburn said. “You only get three or four chances to get it right, or not right. If tests set the grades in the class and you aren’t a good test-taker, or if you aren’t able to apply yourself, you pretty much fail the class.”
Osborn said that students who register with Services for Students with Disabilities are provided help with these tasks.
“Once a student has applied to the program and filed the documents we can give them access to different assistance,” Osborn said. “Some students get extra time or a quieter place to take tests. We even help students to get notes in class.”
Drawing from her own personal experience, Mashburn said the first thing students who have a learning disability need to do is accept it and then find resources to help.
“Once you accept it, don’t look at it as a negative thing,” she said. “Look at it as a part of you. You don’t look at yourself as being negative so don’t consider your disability negative either.”
She said should use all the resources available.
“The more you have available to you and use, the better you will be,” Mashburn said.
But Osborn said taking initiative can be difficult for some students.
“Self-esteem [could prevent] some students from reaching out for assistance,” Osborn said. “They feel embarrassed about needing help.”
One reason for this self-perception among people with disabilities could be because they are often treated differently due to negative connotations, Mashburn said.
“Rarely do you see a spotlight shined on a person with ADHD becoming an actor, a musician or rich,” Mashburn said. “I think it’s a shame. [Disabilities] are definitely not a good thing, but it shouldn’t be such a negative thing. There are people who are famous who are successful, but no one knows about that sort of thing.”
She said that, even though there is a stigma about learning disabilities, students should still try to achieve their goals.
“Yes, people will treat you differently, but that’s everybody,” Mashburn said. “You don’t have to have a learning disability to be treated differently. Look at it as a part of who you are. Accept it. Use your resources, and prove everybody wrong.”