Dysautonomia in College
College can be overwhelming when dealing with dysautonomia.
However, there are a few steps that can make it more manageable:
1. Choosing a college that is a good fit
2. Obtaining and using accommodations
3. Using symptom management strategies & the tips below.
Choosing a college that is a good fit
Choosing a college can be an overwhelming process. There are many different factors to consider to determine if a college is the right fit for you.
When applying for college, keep in mind that the law does not require you to disclose your disability unless you are comfortable doing so or applying for a specialized program. All colleges follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
However, you may want to research the college’s Disability Support Services (DSS), Office of Disability Services (ODS), or similar department to determine what the accommodation registration process looks like and what options are available to you.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a college:
Type of school (4 year versus 2 year)
Size of institution
On-campus and off-campus housing
Disability accommodation center
Obtaining and Using Accommodations
How are accommodations different in college?
The process for obtaining accommodations in college is different from K-12 education. Students in K-12 are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), legally mandated by an education act called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Two civil laws legally mandate college accommodations: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Both laws prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Colleges are required to provide appropriate academic adjustments to ensure that it does not discriminate based on disability. Additionally, colleges must provide housing to students without disabilities that is comparable, convenient, and accessible to students with disabilities at the same cost. ¹
How to Obtain & Use Accommodations in College
In order to obtain and use accommodations, complete the following steps:
- Complete a registration application and provide all necessary documentation to the DSS office
- Schedule an appointment with the DSS coordinator
- Meet with the DSS coordinator to determine eligibility and reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations will be determined based on the student’s disability, individual needs, and documentation. See below for suggested accommodations that may be helpful.
- The DSS coordinator will provide you with accommodation letters to give to each of your professors so they are aware of your needs.
Listed below are some common accommodations and modifications based on symptoms of dysautonomia.
Ability to prop feet up, ability to sit, preferential seating, stretch breaks, alternative format for print material, access to assistive technologies (i.e speech-to-text software), copy of lecture notes, audio-recorded lectures
Quiet environment, time extensions on assignments and exams, ability to sit, alternative format for print materials, access to slides and class materials, alternative format for exams, audio-recorded lectures, access to assistive technologies, access to elevators.
Quiet environment, preferential seating, time extensions on assignments and exams, alternative format for print materials, use of a laptop for exams, access to assistive technology, access to lecture notes/materials, recordings of the class, use of a calculator.
Preferential seating, ability to prop feet up, climate-controlled classroom, access to water and snacks, ability to sit while giving presentations, use of alternative exam format, access to assistive technology, dictation software, access to lecture notes.
Climate-controlled classroom, access to water and snacks.
Access to the restroom during exams, access to water and snacks, preferential seating, exempt from participating in the meal plan.
Permission to wear earplugs or headphones, wearing sunglasses, quiet environment during exams.
Priority registration, reduced course load, exam schedule, medication use, flexible deadlines, stop the clock testing, attendance allowances.
Centrally located housing, air conditioning and heat controls, single room, private/semi-private bathroom, access to private/semi-private kitchen, request to opt-out of meal and housing plans, emotional support or service animal, campus transportation, on-campus disability parking, access to an elevator in dorm and classroom buildings, “evacuation list” placement.
General Advice for Navigating College
Transitioning from high school to college is a huge milestone involving increased independence and freedom, increased academic demands, new relationships, and new environments.
Here are some general tips for making a successful transition to college:
Time Management and Organization
- Allow yourself a brain break every 30 minutes by taking a movement or stretch break. Sometimes it is helpful to set a timer to accomplish this.
- During the first week of class, review your course syllabi and write down deadlines and plan ahead.
- Use a planner (virtual or paper) to track and manage appointments, deadlines, and assignments.
- Take advantage of tutoring sessions; most campuses offer this service for free.
- Connect with a study buddy.
- Map out your classes in advance to navigate the best travel route to optimize your time between classes and do a test run of your travel route to familiarize yourself with the campus.
- Schedule a gap between your classes to allow for travel time.
- Familiarize yourself with the campus and locate the DSS office, health office, dining hall, recreation center, library, etc.
- Schedule classes when least symptomatic.
- Consider online/remote or hybrid classes.
- Consult with your program/degree advisor to determine the best course sequencing for your individualized needs.
- Personal Hygiene (Bathing/Showering and Grooming)
- Shower when least symptomatic.
- Use a shower chair or stool if you do not have access to an accessible shower.
- Use a long-handled sponge or hairbrush to eliminate the need to bend or lift your arms up while bathing/grooming.
- Use travel size shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles or use a pump to place in bottles.
- Use a modified position when blow-drying hair such as sitting while using a blow dryer stand.
- Invest in a recliner (depending on the space of your room) or an office chair to study in a reclining position to reduce symptoms.
- Use a mobility aid such as a seat cane, folding cane, walker, or wheelchair as needed.
- Prepare food by sitting on a chair or stool at the table or stove.
- Keep a bin of extra snacks and water bottles in your room to access when you have a flare-up of symptoms.
- Meal preparation and freeze extra meals to be used later.
- Use pre-cut vegetables or crockpot/instant pot to conserve energy.
- Use food or delivery services.
- Organizing your kitchen area to minimize symptoms (e.g., putting heavy pots and pans in an accessible area like the stove to conserve energy).
- Use adaptive equipment such as a jar gripper, electric can opener, L-shaped knife, boiling basket, etc.
- Use a backpack, rolling cart/suitcase/backpack, or pull a cloth bag to conserve energy.
- Do smaller loads of laundry at a time to reduce fatigue.
- Use detergent pods to avoid lifting heavy detergent bottles.
- Use a reacher to pick up clothes from inside the washer or dryer to avoid bending.
- Invest in a pill organizer organize medications for the week.
- Use a medication tracking app or reminder on your phone to track your medication intake daily.
- Place medication next to bedside table if taken in the morning.
- Carry an extra supply of medicines with you.
- Look into joining the Delta Alpha Pi chapter, an honor society for students with disabilities.
- Connect with people who are like-minded and have the same interests as you.
- Ask the DSS office if there are any extracurricular activities they can connect you with.
- Check out college clubs/organizations you may be interested in.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness.
- Look into free mental health resources (counseling) on campus.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation: An exercise that is used to help relieve anxiety and/or stress by relaxing and tensing specific muscle groups.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Reviewed by Medical Content Experts, 2021