The need to know about academic concessions

By Dr Adri van Der Walt

Studies have shown that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has a major impact on learning and academic performance. People of all ages living with ADHD often can’t realise the grades they are capable of attaining. This will impact on tertiary education and later on future earning capabilities and job satisfaction.

People living with ADHD qualify for concessions at school and at tertiary educational hubs.

The three core symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. Patients with ADHD battle with poor focus and become distracted if they are not interested in the task. They often have poor organizational skills and time management leading to procrastination. Impulsive actions will create problems with control and detail in reading and answering questions.

Medication can improve some of the symptoms but does not alleviate every issue. Organizational skills need to be addressed. Inattention or the inability to stay on a task is also known as executive function disorder which involves difficulties executing daily tasks. A big percentage of patients with ADHD has problems with executive functions.

This leads to the inability to finish tests. Patients often rush through them due to their time management issues, reading and interpreting questions incorrectly or not paying attention to what is expected of them. The outcome is underperformance on tests and exams based on their own ability level. Patients with ADHD often have comorbidities such as learning difficulties, anxiety or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which add their own impact.

There are clear guidelines set up by educational authorities and most provinces have concession policies in place. Most authorities have documents drawn up to explain what concessions are available and how to apply for it.

ADHD assessments can be done for a number of concessions. It is important to prove that cognitive dysfunction is not the main cause for the patient’s difficulties. For this reason, the assessment process needs to be done by a remedial team at school with or without additional evaluation by an educational psychologist.

It is also important to prove that the symptoms are not completely alleviated by medication. Not all patients with ADHD will automatically be accepted for a concession.

Academic concession documents should also be in place for high school learners to ensure registration with the Department of Education. Different processes may apply for public or private schools.

The department allows certain academic concessions according to an individual patient with ADHD’s needs:

  • Extra time
  • A prompter
  • A scribe
  • A smaller venue

These concessions are not for all learning difficulties.

They can also be used when the child or teen has anxiety. The smaller venue is especially useful for children or teens that have ASD as they often experience major problems due to their sensory integration issues.

According to the department’s protocol, a letter from the medical doctor managing the patient is needed. This applies for ADHD, anxiety and ASD as these require medical diagnosis. The concessions may need to be reviewed at intervals and new updated reports may be needed.

These reports are also helpful if students in tertiary institutions apply for concessions for the first time. A vigorous evaluation by a psychologist is necessary with possible assistance from the medical profession. If doctors had diagnosed the child in school years, those reports do add to the validity of the process.

With specific learning problems, an official diagnosis has to be made by the educational support team or an educational psychologist to apply for and decide which concessions is needed for these conditions.

These include:

  • Dyscalculia or problems with maths
  • Dysgraphia or the inability to write
  • Expressive language disorders
  • Spelling problems
  • Specific disabilities
  • Reading problems or dyslexia

Concessions here may vary according to the specific problem. Some of the concessions include: a scribe or reader, assistance with writing or an oral computer writing program, using a computer to do all written work, being orally assessed, spelling concessions, or math concessions.

Specific concessions apply for each situation and as students may have problems in more than one area, a thorough evaluation process is needed. This includes an evaluation by an educational psychologist and report, a letter from the medical practitioner in case of medical issues and ADHD and a recommendation by the school.

It is important that the student must not be given undue advantage and that they are only allowed to perform according to true potential. It is about reviewing more than just their report cards but rather a determination of their true potential by experts involved in the student’s education.

A very clear document regarding academic concessions and accommodations was published by the South African Teacher’s Union in 2016 outlining all the possible concessions allowed and each process.

All students should have an equal opportunity to reach their top potential. They need support and patience from parents and teachers to reach their full potential.