Don't wait as long as me to ask for help

Despite having a diagnosed learning disability, I went through most my degree without seeking accommodations. Here’s why I finally decided to look for support.

Person sitting at a desk with headphones on while using assistive technology Photo: Carter Hutton
This is my own personal experience and may be different from that of other individuals.

When I was starting at Dal, I was advised to look into accommodations early. With a diagnosed learning disability as well as pretty extreme testing anxiety, I had a lot of support throughout high school. I’m not sure if I was intimidated or stubborn or maybe a combination of the two, but I never really made an effort to figure out how to get any academic accommodations.

For those who are unaware, the Student Accessibility Centre at Dal is a resource for people who experience difficulty with any aspect of university. It offers supports and can help with accommodations such as extra time on tests, the ability to take breaks during exams, note-taking support, and help accessing assistive technology.

I knew that supports existed, but always assumed they would be difficult for me to access or that other people with more severe disabilities needed them more than I did. I got through my first year (relatively) successfully and pushed the idea of getting help from my mind.

Fast forward to end of the Fall 2021 semester, the end of my third consecutive challenging semester. Yes, the pandemic and constantly adapting to changing learning environments was extremely difficult for me (and most people). But I was noticing symptoms of my learning disability worsening: not being able to concentrate, taking too long to finish exams, getting overwhelmed by things that hadn’t bothered me earlier in my degree.

Knowing that I needed to have a successful winter semester to be able to graduate, I decided to finally look into accessing academic supports and booked an appointment with an advisor. I can’t take full credit for the idea—my academic advisor (another amazing resource) also had suggested it to me after I’d expressed my concerns about my academic performance.

Booking an appointment was extremely simple—a lot easier than I thought it was going to be, actually. I booked the appointment online, with only about a week-and-a-half waiting period. I then met with one of the advisors to chat about where I was experiencing difficulties, and she told me about the different supports she thought would be helpful.

The feeling of relief I felt from that one conversation is indescribable. Just knowing I have a plan for the semester—especially in my graduating semester—has alleviated a lot of my anxiety around being successful in school. My advisor has also been able to answer all my questions about my specific supports, and they’re always available to make a follow-up appointment. There’s usually a week or two waiting period, but they’re always available to answer questions via email!

Do I regret not looking into the Student Accessibility Centre sooner in my degree? Absolutely. But I’m not beating myself up over it. Some learning disabilities or mental health challenges can fluctuate in severity. It’s always nice to know how to reach out and what types of supports are available to you when you need them. It’s also never too late in your degree to start accessing new supports.

If you think you’re in need of academic support or want to learn more about the Student Accessibility Centre, check out their website. I highly recommend it.