Opinion: Barriers to ADHD Assistance in colleges are not only impractical, but damaging
American University and other D.C. school’s stringent rules for undiagnosed students wanting ADHD assistance make seeking care expensive and arduous
There is no question that going to college is hard, but for some college students, the difficulty in accomplishing even the most simple tasks seems insurmountable. Certain tasks, assignments and responsibilities shouldn’t be as taxing as they appear, which is incredibly frustrating. Trying in vain to work on a project, but instead sitting at your computer for hours on end, mind blank or wandering endlessly, is not normal. Wanting to get out of bed and start your day but feeling an invisible barrier preventing you from moving, no matter how much you want to get up, is not normal.
The frustration accompanying these feelings of inadequacy and unsubstantiated lack of motivation hurts not only grades, but also social life and self-esteem. College can be the turning point that awakens people to the possibility they could be more than just lazy and can also offer freedom to people who always believed they needed help but couldn’t access it. However, seeking help from university health centers, including American University’s Student Health Center, often does not yield positive results.
Using three D.C. universities as a case study, American University, George Washington University and Georgetown University, offers insight into how colleges address undiagnosed ADHD students and show the hurdles these students must jump through to potentially obtain a diagnosis and treatment.
AU offers psychiatric services through the Student Health Center. On the website describing AU’s limited psychiatric services, which primarily focus on medication management, there is a specific section for students coming in for ADHD. The SHC does not provide in-house diagnostics for students without a prior diagnosis and only provides suggestions for outside evaluation. For students seeking outside diagnosis, there are very specific constraints required by the health center.
According to the Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) organization, the number of professionals that can diagnose the disorder range from physicians, psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners and other licensed therapists. However, the SHC only accepts an ADHD diagnosis from neuropsychological testing conducted by a “psychologist at the Ph.D./PsyD level who is trained in psychoeducational evaluation.” Such neuropsychological testing takes place over multiple hours-long evaluations, which are not often covered by major insurance companies, with fees ranging from $700 to upwards of $3,000.
Such lengthy and expensive processes for ADHD diagnoses are also seen at George Washington University. However, the college does offer diagnostic services through their Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). While assessment services are currently suspended, the traditional process requires students to submit an assessment request and fill out a screening packet along with an initial meeting. If a student is deemed to be a good candidate then they will be placed on a waiting list. Once they are taken off the waitlist, the student will have two to three appointments, totaling to about four to six hours of testing and a final appointment to go over results and possible diagnosis. This entire process comes at a $900 fee, which is stated to be “significantly lower” than other community testing services and possibly covered by the GW student health insurance plan.
Georgetown University also offers medication management through their Counseling and Psychological Services and Student Health Center. If a student has no prior diagnosis, they must provide extensive documentation from outside sources. This includes a comprehensive diagnostic interview by a psychologist or psychiatrist, thorough neuropsychological testing by a medical professional and exhaustive laboratory testing to rule out underlying medical causes or potential for medication abuse. Each of these requirements is costly and not often covered by major insurances.
Although each of these schools has slightly different policies regarding students seeking ADHD treatment with no prior diagnosis, they all consist of costly and lengthy procedures that are largely inaccessible to most college students.
Of course, there are valid concerns about stimulant medication misuse on college campuses where “study drugs” are often utilized by those without prescriptions. Fears of college students “feigning” ADHD symptoms to obtain medication or accommodations are often met with higher testing restrictions, such as neuropsychological testing, which surpass the typical DSM-5 test criteria for diagnosis. While such testing can be beneficial to weed out recreational drug seekers, it can also give a more descriptive picture of how to treat those with ADHD. This testing is not bad, but the costliness and inaccessibility of such testing is where many students seeking help are boxed out.
People with ADHD and those suspecting they may have the disorder should have access to help through medication management or counseling. Coming to a conclusive diagnosis is the first step in such treatment and many universities are preventing students from pursuing it. Colleges must balance between helping their students receive psychological and psychiatric help and preventing on-campus substance abuse. We should be able to turn to our school to help us; however, when it comes to ADHD treatment, most students are explicitly turned away.
Jelinda Montes is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communications and a columnist for The Eagle.