Disability and Accessibility at Andover: Cognitive Disabilities

Danny Shleifer ’15 has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but he does not consider it a cognitive disability.

“Andover has been pretty helpful about ADHD and tried its best to support me, but at the end of the day, a big part of what a good school does is help kids with different learning styles learn in the best way for them, and I think I just fall under that category,” he said.

Forty-six Andover students diagnosed with cognitive disabilities, such as ADHD and dyslexia, currently receive assistance from Andover, said Patricia Davison, Coordinator of Student Disabilities.

“There aren’t too many positions beyond Andover where you will need to have rapid, instant, thoughtful and spot-on answers. Andover sometimes works at such an unrelenting pace that someone with a slightly slower processing speed — not less intelligent — might need accommodations,” said Davison.

Andover provides accommodations such as extra time on timed assignments such as tests or having teachers deliberately wait a few seconds before calling on someone in class. The maximum amount of extra time a teacher is permitted to issue for in-class assessments is one-and-a-half times more than what is normally allowed.

“One of the most fundamental principles behind my work is making sure that I am giving people equal access to the playing field. I am not trying to advantage students with cognitive disabilities and hopefully, I’m not disadvantaging them. The lens through which we look at each student is equity and whether or not we’re making the playing field equal,” said Davison.

Students with cognitive disabilities do not receive extra time outside the classroom with homework assignments, said Davison. They are expected to manage their time appropriately such that they can turn in daily assignments, as well as long-term papers, on time.

“If someone were disabled in a lot of other ways, this would be a really tough school for them to manage. If somebody was a quadriplegic, for example, we would not discriminate against them, but you’d have to think about how feasible and practical it would be to have them going around campus on an icy day in January,” said Davison.

“If you do the math… doing everything 50 percent slower is about the slowest someone could go and still manage at Andover. If, for example, a student took two times as long to do everything, he or she probably couldn’t manage five classes and a sport and all the homework,” she continued.

The 46 students who receive special assistance are not the only students at Andover with learning disabilities, but they are the only ones who have disclosed their disability to the school.

“A student could have ADHD and take medication for it, and the medication mitigates the symptoms, so they don’t need to tell anyone about it and they don’t need additional accommodations from the school,” said Davison.

Accommodations for cognitive disabilities are evaluated on a case by case basis. For example, a student who receives extra time in math class will not necessarily receive accommodations in English class. A student’s cognitive disability is recognized by the school and by Davison through a series of tests, which occur after the student has disclosed his or her disability to the school.. After receiving recognition from the school, everyone on the student’s “team” is notified, and Davison will recommend appropriate accommodations to each team member. A student’s team consists of teachers, coaches and house counselors.

Davison sometimes works in conjunction with Isham and Graham House to help a student in other aspects of his or her daily life.

“There is often crossover between a cognitive disability and needing emotional or physical support,” said Davison.

“Sometimes our office, [Isham and Graham House] work in triangulation to provide a student the necessary help.”