Sean and Computer Science: A Case Study on Accommodations for a Psychiatric Disorder

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Background

I am a computer science major, and my name is Sean. I have a psychiatric condition called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was first diagnosed in grade school by a child psychiatrist. I also have some social phobias and physical tics, but the OCD is what most affects my academic work. I take medication that controls some of my symptoms.

Access Issues

In high school I did not request accommodations for my OCD. I was mostly in advanced placement courses, and I was afraid people would not understand some of my unusual behaviors that I really couldn't control or eliminate. Preparing for exams and taking exams were the biggest challenges in school. Part of my disorder involves constant recurring thoughts and excessive worrying about knowing all of the content from each class lecture and the textbooks. One big problem for me is my need to constantly check if everything is OK (e.g., checking that I didn't make any mistakes on a paper; checking that the teacher received my papers; rechecking my answers on exams numerous times, to the point that I often can't complete exams). This compulsive thinking slows down my work, especially when time is limited. I'm pretty bright, and I think that helped get me through exams in high school and do well in my classes.

Right away, college was very different for me. There were more exams, the exams were more difficult, final exams were longer, and there was more reading material for me to obsess about. I especially obsessed about my computer science classes, because the exams were very detailed and complex, making it easy for me to get bogged down. I did poorly on my exams and failed two courses the first quarter.

Solutions

I told my computer science professor about my OCD, and he called the disability services office. I had no idea that there was anything they might be able to do for me. I found out that there were other students like me with nonvisible disabilities. The disabled student services counselor told me that, according to my documentation and our interview, I was eligible to use testing accommodations (up to double the time for exams in my case). She told me that they recommended this as one means to help me manage my condition and still take exams but did not provide a guarantee I would be successful at exams. She informed my professors that I was eligible for extended time on exams, and I began taking exams in the disability services office.

The counselor also suggested that I do some work in the learning skills center to learn new test-taking skills and perhaps reduce my anxiety about exams. This helped me to develop more effective ways to prepare for and take tests. The counselor also helped me locate a psychiatrist in the community who specializes in treating people with OCD, since the doctor in the student health center could not see me every week.

Conclusion

This case study illustrates the following:

  1. There are accommodation strategies for psychiatric disorders, which a growing student population on postsecondary campuses have.
  2. There are college students with psychiatric disorders who can effectively manage a disability while taking classes.
  3. Students with psychiatric disorders may also need other on-campus or community services, such as therapists, psychiatrists, learning skills specialists, and tutoring, in addition to disability-related accommodations.
  4. Faculty play an important role in responding or following up on student issues and referring students to campus departments for assistance.
  5. It is important to build faculty awareness about disability resources on campus for students with psychiatric disabilities.

Last update or review: January 23, 2013