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Kid Companions- Chewelry: May 26, 2010

May 26, 2010

Academic Accommodations ~ Have Mental Problems? ~ Know Your Rights

Parents of 5 year olds going off to primary school, think it is difficult to see their little one leave the nest. Seeing my daughter with Special Needs, going off to the University of Ottawa three provinces away, made me sick with worry. For all of you who are about to face the same situation, read on to find out the kind of support those with mental impairments are entitled to.

Academic accommodations are your right,
universities are not doing you a favour.
Once advised of an individual’s disability, the school/university must put in place an arrangement to support a student with a disability. They must make reasonable modifications in their rules and policies to accommodate the special needs of the student. You will be evaluated using the same standards as everyone else. Your courses won’t be watered down. The changes are to level the playing field and keep you afloat every day while dealing with what life has dealt you. Some arrangements will only be used during the rough patches. It is like insurance.


When you first start searching for an establishment of higher learning, also include searching for their program of support offered to a person with mental health issues. Even if you are feeling well at the time, put all in place for the duration of your courses. In the middle of a semester, in the middle of a crises, is not the time to arrange academic accommodations.

Look for their disability services center and speak with the disability services coordinator or its equivalent like an academic advisor, counselling center, health center. Do not stop until you are satisfied that support will be easily accessible when needed.

To establish the academic accommodations you will need, you will have to put everything in writing and so should they. Moreover, you will have to provide a medical professional’s documentation about your disability, including the nature of the disability and how it affects your ability to participate in and benefit from the academic program. Also listed should be your current medication and how that medication might affect your academic performance. All this takes time, start the year before you go to university.

When our daughter was in University 16 years ago, I was surprised at the support she got. So I am sure that now the situation must even be much better.

Today, I found this wonderful guide for college and university students. It shows your legal rights when seeking mental health services. Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights developed by the Leadership21 Committee, a group of young adults advising the Bazelon Center, with the assistance of senior staff attorney Karen Bower and publications director Lee Carty.

The guide is available online at
Both HTML and PDF formats. The availability of print copies will be announced on that page.

For those of you applying to a Canadian university the following site is of equal value:

The following are a few examples of academic accommodations special needs students have a right to have:
*Provide a private room or location in which to take exams and tests.
*Allow additional time to complete tests, exams and assignments.
*Allow students to audio record lectures.
*Provide written notes of lectures.
*Provide preferential classroom seating.
*Provide retroactive withdrawals from courses if academic difficulties were due to depression or another mental health condition.
*Allow the student to work from home.

The guide, Campus Mental Health – Know Your Rights, has described the perfect setting…I wonder how many universities have reached this level of accommodation:

“Your school officials should provide an environment conducive to your mental health. This includes working to reduce stigma and discrimination; training staff to better recognize warning signs and assist students with mental illnesses; reducing barriers to mental health services; adequately staffing the mental health or counseling center; and maintaining active relationships with providers in the community who offer care to students. The school should appoint an individual and implement a coordinating group with the responsibility and authority to work toward these goals."

Parents whose Special Needs children have made it to university cannot hang up their apron just yet as there are still many obstacles to overcome. However, if all these years you have shown your growing child to self-regulate and self-advocate, you can stand tall the day he/she graduates. If they don’t make it to the finish line? Participating in the race also has invaluable benefits for the rest of their lives.

What do you think is the most difficult adaptation a student has to face when he leaves for university?

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