Education

Mental health conditions demand accommodations (letter)

To the Editors:

An article you published May 3 entitled “Accommodating Mental Health” includes incorrect information about the nature of mental illness and ADHD and the need for accommodations for these populations. This information could do untold harm to an already marginalized group.

Your article states: 

“For psychological disabilities in particular, accommodations should be seen as a temporary solution, said Weis.”

“Accommodations are good and appropriate for people with those conditions,” he said. “But we ought not lose sight of treatment. I mean, anxiety, depression and ADHD are treatable conditions. What we really want to do is say, ‘Let’s use accommodations until you can treat this condition through therapy and/or medication.’ We don’t want people saying, ‘I’m just going to rely on accommodations for the next six months or eight months or forever.’

Anxiety, depression and ADHD are treatable conditions. That is correct. However, there is currently no cure for any of these conditions. They are lifelong conditions. To imply that there is any treatment that can negate the need for accommodations in order to make learning accessible for all learners is dangerous. It not only puts learning at risk, it puts lives at risk.

As someone with ADHD who is also an expert in teaching and learning, I will speak to that condition specifically. ADHD is a life-threatening condition. To quote Drs. Hallowell and Ratey, two medical doctors who are experts on ADHD who also live with ADHD, “Ignorance regarding ADHD costs lives.” There is data that shows a 21-year reduction in life expectancy for up to 2/3 of people with ADHD. This is a lifelong, neurobiological condition. Medication and therapy alone are insufficient to create conditions for success for the vast majority of ADHD learners, and any statement to the contrary is in complete contradiction to the most recent data on ADHD and the support of ADHD learners. 

Learners like me, learners with ADHD, are not magically able to navigate a fundamentally ableist formal education system with therapy and/or medication. Our profound struggles with executive functions (e.g., focus, concentration, time management, prioritization, decision making) can be lessened, but not eliminated, by certain treatments. While therapy and medication can be important parts of our treatment plans, folks with ADHD need constant and consistent support via formal accommodations, inclusive learning design, and caring, knowledgeable educators. We also need neurotypical clinicians, educators, and editors to educate themselves about the nature of these conditions and to stop perpetuating incorrect and ableist viewpoints.

I implore your readers to begin or continue to seek out experts who live with anxiety, depression and ADHD in order to learn scientifically accurate strategies grounded in disabled people’s life experiences. Nothing about us without us.

–Karen Costa

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