This post is originally from December 2011.
An interesting article recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal. “A Serious Illness or an Excuse” is worth reading and talks about what is happening on college campuses across the country: The number of students requesting accommodations has skyrocketed, and more of these students than ever have some form of documented mental illness. While OCD in particular is not mentioned, the fact that it is the fourth most common psychiatric disorder is evidence enough that it is present on college campuses.
The article touches on various issues that arise as a result of so many students needing services. Schools are left to figure out how much and how best to accommodate students with documented disabilities. Who should make these decisions – faculty? individual teachers? counselors? disability coordinators? And what about those students without documented disabilities who request help? Most likely some of them are indeed suffering from some form of mental illness and have not yet been officially diagnosed, and it is also likely that some students are just trying to take advantage of the system: Get a slip from the counseling center and avoid taking that exam you neglected to study for. There are lots of different scenarios and it is up to individual colleges to develop policies to deal with them.
While laws governing special accommodations in public elementary and secondary schools can be quite detailed, colleges and universities are left to develop their own guidelines within the framework of the ADAA which basically states that these students cannot be discriminated against.
So where does this leave those with obsessive-compulsive disorder? We already know that OCD is complicated and often misunderstood. While therapists can make recommendations for accommodations, the truth is that sometimes those with OCD don’t know what they need until after the fact. Maybe while reading for a literature class, someone with OCD gets “stuck” on a page and can’t continue on. Maybe paying too much attention to detail and not enough to the big picture causes problems in another class. These situations can be hard to plan for and might come across as made-up excuses to those who don’t understand. Typical accommodations such as extended deadlines and untimed testing might actually be hurtful, not helpful, to those with OCD.
As more students with documented cases of OCD are sure to arrive on campuses, I envision this problem getting worse before getting better. This is just one more reason to continue advocating for OCD awareness. The more everyone understands the nature of this insidious disorder, the more they will come to realize that the best accommodations for those suffering from OCD just might come in the form of open-mindedness, support, flexibility, and trust.