Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Rising number of disabled students ask SoCal colleges for help during finals

Paul Miller is the director of the Disability Support Services program at California State University Fullerton.
Paul Miller is the director of the Disability Support Services program at California State University Fullerton.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Students requesting testing accommodations at Cal State Fullerton have nearly doubled in the past three years - and Cal State Long Beach and Cal State Northridge have seen similar increases. Adminstrators said it's a result of more students with problems like ADHD and Autism knowing they can ask for special help, like extra time to take tests.

UC Santa Barbara autism researcher Bob Koegel said with 30 years of increased diagnoses, college campuses should have been prepared for these increases by hiring administrators with expertise on how to help these students.

“Ever since about 1987, there’s been a huge increase in the number of young children that have autism," he said. "And that has increased every year from initial incidence of one in 2500 to now one in 68.”

But even with this spring's high of 800 students asking the university’s Disabilities Support Services for help with a final exam - that’s still a tiny portion of Cal State Fullerton's 38,000 students.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the university is required to give disabled students help if they request it. The school requires a doctor's note. A wide range of students ask for accommodations, including those suffering from:

“I’ve had the accommodations since first grade," said Kinesiology major Bobby Parish, who was diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten.

He said it affects his memory and makes him nervous during tests, so he gets to use a computer to type out answers and gets double the time to finish his finals. He said that kind of help levels the playing field between him and students who don't have his condition.

"When I'm in there and the clock is ticking and I know I have 30 questions, I have 30 minutes, a minute per question - all that is too much," he said. "With the accommodation, it helps me keep Bs - high Bs."

Graduating senior Nikki Sun asked for more time for her Social Psychology final this spring. Several years ago, a doctor told her she suffered from depression and attention deficit disorder. She said it made a big difference.

“I felt less stress, less anxiety, definitely - didn’t have to feel like you had to finish the test at a certain amount of time," she said, "so that reduced a lot of pressure.”

Sun said the school was great about responding to her needs - it was her family who didn't want her to ask for help.

"My parents, they weren’t really supportive of this," she said. "Especially coming from an Asian family, they don’t want to see any problems with their kids. They don’t want to believe there’s any problems."

Paul Miller, who heads Cal State Fullerton's disability office, said he does get kids come in who don't qualify.

“We often have students coming in seeking assistance just because they’re stressed about taking exams," he said, "and we have to help them understand that unless it rises to a clinical level then it’s just a normal part of everybody’s experience in higher ed.”

Sometimes Miller gets complaints from students when their teachers don't take their disabilities seriously.

“We have faculty in the past, that they’ve refused to accommodate," said Morteza Rahmatian, a dean at the business school. "I have to approach a faculty to make sure they do what they’re supposed to because this is very important."