“We want to measure a student’s knowledge—not their disability,” says College Board’s “Accommodations” page on their official website. However, our current education system hinders their ability to deliver on this promise.

I was incapable of completing tests throughout high school. This was damaging for me, as tests are some of the most valued tools within American education. Scoring so low on them—even when I knew the content and could complete the work—it felt as though I was doing something wrong, no matter how hard I tried.

After my junior year, five AP tests, and an SAT, I learned that College Board offers accommodations for students with disabilities such as ADHD. I didn’t think I was mentally disabled, though; I told myself it was my stupidity and poor study habits.

Searching for symptoms of ADHD out of curiosity, I found many traits which I resemble: carelessness, trouble staying focused, poor listening, no sense of time, and many more. But I was still doubtful. I don’t fidget or jump around constantly. Still, I believed my setbacks were my fault and that I could “just focus,” as we’re told so often by our parents and teachers.

I tell this story because these are the thoughts that go through countless students’ minds with nobody to correct them in time, if at all. 

In my case, I decided to contact a psychologist and get tested for clarity, and surely enough, I was added to the list of millions of kids diagnosed with ADHD.

After receiving my diagnosis, I presented it to my school counselor, hoping I could for once feel like my efforts were worthwhile, both in the classroom and during standardized tests. I thought maybe I could be relieved of so much frustration in my final year of high school. “First you will need to get approved for a 504, which will take a couple of months,” she told me, handing me a form. “And even if you are eligible, you typically need to have a 504 for four months before you’re approved for SAT/ACT accommodations.”

The government provides the 504 Education Plan to protect students with disabilities. To summarize, public schools are forbidden from excluding or denying students with disabilities and must provide necessary accommodations for them. This is meant to be a method for preventing discrimination, but two questions remain: how do you make sure everyone who needs help receives it? And why is the process of obtaining help so difficult?

Orange County has the resources to help more students get diagnosed earlier, yet we continue to sweep this issue under the rug. The reason for this is debatable, but the need to change it is not.

Our school’s plaster posters of methods for students to cope with feelings of anxiety, stress, fatigue, and other emotions during school, but fail to acknowledge that many of their students are suffering from genuine mental disabilities; in fact, ADHD encompasses all the previously listed symptoms. Ignoring this problem results in numerous students never reaching their full potential and often failing because they were expected to present the same proficiencies as neurotypical students.

These students have the capacity to become future doctors, lawyers, engineers, and workers of all sorts, but are not provided the resources to demonstrate it. Weeding out students with mental disabilities is not weeding out the unintelligent or unproductive; it is only weeding out those who struggle in the single setting that has been provided for them. It’s worth noting that theories suggest that geniuses like Albert Einstein may have had mental conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. In fact, Einstein was unsatisfied with the nature of traditional schooling to the point that he dropped out at age 15. Amongst the neurodivergent are many other geniuses. Orange County’s schools need to adjust their approach to accommodating all students’ needs so that our gifted students can thrive as much as their neurotypical peers.

ADHD cases are on the rise, with a thirty-percent national increase from 2012 to 2020, according to a report presented by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. While official cases may be on the rise, it’s not actually a result of more people having ADHD; it’s a result of more people getting diagnosed, as suggested by Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco. Students like myself need help, as these are some of the most important, foundational years of our lives. While acknowledging more cases is an improvement in awareness of mental disabilities in schools, it’s unreasonable to expect students and families to become aware on their own, especially when it isn’t always visible.

This problem is not consistent around the world. Finland’s school system has valued psychological counseling as a priority in education since the 1980s. It also has the highest rate of high school completion in the world, with its education being labeled “the best-developed education system in the world” by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. While many factors may contribute to this title, it’s likely that psychological factors play a significant role. While many Orange County high schools employ a school psychologist, psychological evaluation is not as prioritized, nor is neurodivergent awareness or education.

With this in mind, the best course of action is to encourage funding towards psychological diagnostic testing in every high school. Prior to a student’s enrollment, their parents should be given the option to have their child analyzed by a psychologist. The results would determine if the student is neurodivergent and help the school, and connected organizations, recognize their needs and accommodate them.

Orange County’s board of education should also spread awareness of and educate students about neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and ASD. With so little knowledge of these conditions, students and their families can only assume the student is less intelligent than their peers, which could not be further from the truth.

With both of these measures in place, students can avoid going through the frustration and pain that I did. They would not need to endure years of feeling inadequate for something beyond their control. Their families would also be spared from the long, difficult, and sometimes expensive processes of obtaining help and accommodations. With this new system, Orange County’s education can become a more fair and equitable place for everyone.

Ishaan Singh is a writer, athlete, activist, charity holder, and senior at Tesoro High School. He has learned about ADHD in schools from professors and researchers from various universities to formulate his opinions. He lives in Coto de Caza, California. Ishaan was able to write this article with the editing and help of Natalie Wolff, a fellow athlete, activist, writer, and senior at Tesoro High School.

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