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Hillsdale College may not have an official office for helping stu­dents with learning dis­abil­ities, but they do have some­thing even more effective, according to stu­dents.

Dean of Men Aaron Petersen said the respective dean’s office have handled dys­graphia, dyslexia, ADD, and ADHD, and have always “had success just talking it through,” and finding the right accom­mo­da­tions.

Former student Alex Pack said Hillsdale’s process stream­lined the bureau­cracy of receiving accom­mo­da­tions for learning dis­abil­ities.

“The whole acco­mo­dation break from the mold is all about making it easier on everyone,” Pack said, explaining that he talked and sub­mitted his doctor’s letter to the dean’s office before his first class on campus.

Pack said telling his pro­fessors about his accom­mo­dation was like informing them of a pre­ferred nickname.

“They usually responded, ‘Oh, just let me know what you need,’” Pack said.

Pack was diag­nosed at age 8 with dys­graphia, which impairs hand­writing ability and fine motor skills. Then, his way of learning shifted toward tech­nology to sup­plement his non-intel­ligent recall memory, which Pack explained as “the ability to remember things without any con­nection,” he said. “Intel­ligent Recall Memory, in con­trast, is the ability to remember things with a con­nection.”

But he said that tech­nology makes his life a lot easier.

“Tech­nology is a huge help — you have to remember less,” Pack said. “For example, think of an iPhone. Without it, you would have to remember so many phone numbers and addresses.”

Pack said he had put off ful­filling his lan­guage requirement, because having taken three years of Spanish, he knew it would wreck his GPA due to non-intel­ligent recall memory for vocab­ulary.

“There are dif­ferent ways to learn a lan­guage,” he said. “When I do learn a lan­guage, I’ll use an app like Duolingo that inte­grates me more with how the lan­guage is spoken, rather than just mem­o­rizing vocab­ulary.”

Pack said dys­graphia makes him think dif­fer­ently, which isn’t nec­es­sarily bad.

“Dys­graphia makes how I under­stand the world and use words dif­ferent,” he said. “I wouldn’t take med­ication to make me normal. I think it’s better; I find myself finding logical processes much more inter­esting and more complex.”

Pack requested accom­mo­da­tions for typing instead of writing essays during exams, and time and a half to com­plete them, though he said he rarely uses it.

“No one wants to read hand­written essays, and it’s easier for pro­fessors to grade,” he said. “I just put my com­puter on air­plane mode, and make it easy for the pro­fessor to see my screen to make it obvious I’m not cheating.”

Pack said that in his expe­rience, Hillsdale has done an excep­tional job catering to stu­dents with learning dis­abil­ities.

“Hillsdale did as much as they needed to do — the pro­fessors were happy to work with me, and to educate me,” he said.

Petersen also highly com­mended the college’s staff.

“Our pro­fessors here are out­standing with meeting the needs of stu­dents, and always have been,” he said. “One of our great strengths as an insti­tution is the pro­fessors and their will­ingness to help.”

Petersen rec­om­mended stu­dents reach out to their pro­fessor and ask for extra time on their exams. Some­times the two work it out, he said, but typ­i­cally the pro­fessor encourages the student to work with the deans.

To help with this, Hillsdale offers an online accom­mo­da­tions request form asking for contact infor­mation, a medical assessment of the dis­ability no older than three years old, a description of the dis­ability, and the sought accom­mo­da­tions.

Petersen said the online form ben­efits freshmen the most because they are unfa­miliar with the campus and faculty.

“A few incoming stu­dents reached out to my office this summer regarding accom­mo­da­tions,” he said. “They either called directly or sub­mitted the online form. We had initial con­ver­sa­tions in the summer and recon­nected in the fall upon their arrival.”

Petersen said his rela­tion­ships are built on the person, not on their dis­ability.

“Stu­dents typ­i­cally have figured out what accom­mo­da­tions rea­sonably address their dis­ability by the time they come to college, which is helpful,” he said. “I am impressed by how hard stu­dents will work to not let their dis­ability be a block to success. We want to partner with them in that.”

Petersen encouraged stu­dents to reach out for help early.

“We work closely with each student in deter­mining a rea­sonable accom­mo­dation, then notify the pro­fessors accord­ingly, and the pro­fessor will meet the accom­mo­dation,” Petersen said. “If there’s strong need after that, stu­dents shoot me an email saying, ‘Hey Dean, is there any way you can shoot out emails to my new pro­fessors this semester?”

Petersen said the dean’s office keeps such matters con­fi­dential.

“Pro­fessors, stu­dents can expect con­fi­den­tiality and privacy here,” Petersen said. “Some­times stu­dents share their dis­ability issues directly with their pro­fessors, and I think pro­fessors typ­i­cally appre­ciate the stu­dents’ openness.”

Petersen said Hillsdale’s com­munity helps encourage stu­dents to seek help if they are strug­gling.

“Res­i­dence hall life, with its tightly-knit com­mu­nities, pro­vides help to stu­dents with dis­abil­ities,” he said. “They will find encour­agement to come to the deans if they are strug­gling in a class, or in some way.”

Petersen said he had no expe­rience with any student trying to abuse accom­mo­da­tions. In fact, he said some who are given accom­mo­da­tions rarely use them.

Sophomore Montie Mont­gomery did not imme­di­ately dis­close having ADD to the deans because he hadn’t had problems at Hillsdale.

Although he could qualify, Mont­gomery said he had never asked for extra time on tests at Hillsdale.

“I went to public school my entire life. There, things were a bit dif­ferent,” he said. “I never had to ask for extra time, I just took longer times on my tests and quizzes because you get to a point on a quiz or test and you look at the words and you’re like, ‘I really don’t want to do this anymore.’”

The boring format of stan­dardized tests at public school neg­a­tively affected him, Mont­gomery said.

“But here, they structure tests dif­fer­ently. It’s a lot more writing-based, from my expe­rience, and there haven’t been stan­dardized tests,” Mont­gomery said. “It’s gen­erally been really easy for me to get done in the standard amount of time. Some­times, I even finish ahead of schedule.”

Mont­gomery was diag­nosed at age 6. The doctors pre­scribed him Adderall, but he switched to Metadate because Adderall dulled his per­son­ality, he said, and he’s been on it ever since.

“I was reading very early; learning was never really hard for me,” he said. “Part of that was because my parents put me on med­ication at a young age.”

Mont­gomery said Metadate helped him, but as he grew older,  it lasted for a shorter period of time.

“Here, you’re not wading through school, and then have homework. It’s like you’re con­stantly working on every­thing,” he said. “And so I’m up to 2 a.m. quite often trying to take 17 credit hours, trying to learn a new lan­guage, and being involved in so many extracur­ricular activ­ities.”

Mont­gomery said his med­icine wears off around 3 p.m. — usually before he’s even out of class.

He said his hardest struggle was taking foreign lan­guages, which he also couldn’t com­plete in high school.

“I love reading, but when it comes to foreign lan­guages, it’s like I have to rewrite the entire book. Latin has been easy for me —  I can con­cep­tu­alize that, and it mirrors English,” he said. “But with Spanish, it dragged my GPA down,” Mont­gomery said. “I don’t think it’s nec­es­sarily because I have ADD, but I think it played a role in it.”

Mont­gomery said having ADD didn’t pre­clude him from pur­suing strong aca­d­emics or club roles at Hillsdale. In fact, he said college was easier for him than high school.

“Classes in general here are hard, but, you know, I like chal­lenge, and it hasn’t held me back,” he said. “The classes aren’t hard enough to the point I can’t do them. I still have a good GPA, I’ve been on Student Fed­er­ation for the past year, and I’m running for vice pres­ident now, and I have countless lead­ership roles on campus.”

Mont­gomery said his ADD isn’t obvious.

“If there’s one thing people can visibly see about me having ADD is that I’m a bit more quirky and out­going,” he said. “Like, not in a way that’s bad at all, but I jump around with my sen­tences, unless I have it in front of me.”

Mont­gomery said he would like to get off the med­icine in the future, when he’s not in school and hope­fully working at a thinktank in Wash­ington D.C., a job which he thought would com­plement his per­son­ality and ADD.

“I think working some­place like the Cato Institute would be a good thing for me because I’m very extro­verted, but also decently intro­verted,” he said. “I’m an [Extra­version, Intu­ition, Thinking, and Per­ception on the Myers-Briggs Type Indi­cator], so I think ADD helps because I can just spout out a bunch of random stuff and keep a con­ver­sation going for two hours.”

Mont­gomery also said Metadate has neg­ative side effects.

“I think I’m med­ically addicted to it,” he said. “I get incredibly moody when I’m not on it. I think it had a really neg­ative effect on some of my friend­ships here that I would lash out at. So I’m not a big fan of the pill, even though it helps. I think it’s sig­nif­i­cantly altered my per­son­ality.”

Mont­gomery hopes to even­tually follow the path of his dad, for financial and health reasons.

“I’d like to be off it in nine to 10 years. I know my dad has ADD, and I’ve never seen him take a pill for it,” he said. “And he does just fine.”