To disclose or not to disclose? Problems with lab work

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Lockheart
Deinonychus
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18 Apr 2012, 7:48 am

Hi,

I have returned to uni to do a second undergraduate degree. It's a mid-life career change (or possibly a mid-life crisis, I don't know which yet).

My first degree was in media. This one is in science. I'm finding science a great deal more challenging, and not only because of the subject matter. I don't mind challenging subject matter, but what's causing me real grief is the labs (the practical sessions). They seem designed to hit each and every one of my most challenging Aspie traits and sensitivities. It's come to the point where I dread them. I end each one feeling exhausted and depressed. It's all the more upsetting because I expected to enjoy them.

I'll outline my biggest problems. I can't cope with the vague nature of them and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be doing half the time. Because there are so many students in the class we often have to do our tasks out of order, which leaves me feeling unsettled. I can't complete the work in the time allocated and I don't remember what I've done afterwards because I'm naturally a plodder and don't learn when I have to go faster than I'm comfortable with. The lab environment isn't very comfortable either. It has bright fluoro lights and 50 or 60 other students talking and moving around from display to display. In one particular class our lab supervisor has a tendency to yell like a drill sergeant to make herself heard, which shatters my concentration and sets me on edge. I feel anxious, pressured and stressed.

It's not getting any better. In my latest lab a string of events led to a mini-meltdown where I flung down my pen, nearly burst into tears and had to leave before I threw an expensive slide to the floor or knocked over an even more expensive microscope.

I'm registered with the "disability" services on campus and I've been speaking to a counsellor at the uni, but I don't feel like any of this is helping. I wonder if I should talk directly to my lecturers (professors)? I feel like I'll draw negative attention to myself if I do, and also feel like I should be able to cope without help. I'm not sure what they could do about it anyway. On the other hand, I'm struggling badly.

What do people think? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

With thanks,
Lockheart



Dantac
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18 Apr 2012, 3:01 pm

"I wonder if I should talk directly to my lecturers (professors)? I feel like I'll draw negative attention to myself if I do, and also feel like I should be able to cope without help. I'm not sure what they could do about it anyway. On the other hand, I'm struggling badly."

Do it. Remember this is your future and you are paying for this education. Do what you need to do. The instructor cannot in any way give you 'negative' anything since you are registered and asking him for help.

Best thing is to write a formal letter and present it to the instructors detailing your issues. Nothing guarantees things getting done more than when you generate a paper trail. Its the proverbial fire under their rear ends.

As to what they can do about it... probably not much in the sense of changing the way they teach but they could definitely give you some space for you to complete your work. I'm not sure how it is in AUS but in the US the prof. is able to give you time extensions in class to finish the work and/or do something about the lights (dimming them or allowing you to wear shaded eyewear) and sound (noise cancelling earphones).

There are also things you can do on your own to help yourself.

For example I used to do not so well in lecture classes because I could not pay attention/learn and take notes at the same time. I could however put the pen down and understand it all but no notes meant the week after the details would fade (but not the concepts). And details = exams. I also had issues with the people in class talking over the lecture..its like the brain snaps onto both conversations and cant filter one out.

It all got solved with one little gadget. I bought an Ipad and use an app called Underscore Notify which lets me take notes, record video, take pictures (if ipad2/3) and access the internet (google unknown terms while the lecture is going? PRICELESS!) and it lets me carry most of my textbooks in e-format. After each class I can re-play the lecture audio and keep taking notes on the program. Its been so good to me my GPA went from 3.1 to 4.0.

This is an example and may not apply to you but you may consider something similar.



Jumla
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18 Apr 2012, 5:30 pm

I’m going to urge caution. I used to be an advocate of disclosure, but my experiences have irrevocably altered my position on the issue. Many instructors will be fantastic in terms of accommodating you, but a minority will not. This minority most certainly can give you ‘negative’. Legal recourse in Australia is very different to the US in terms of bringing a discrimination complaint. It’s a lot harder to do this in Australia than in the US, especially when dealing with large institutions.

Once you have an idea of what adjustments would help you (I’m sure there are people with lab experience here who can suggest some ways the institution can help you), I would recommend going to disability services and asking them to request adjustments from the instructor/s, without disclosing the nature of your disability. They can write a letter for you to take to your instructor/s about what you require, again without stating the nature of your disability. Another option could be to try and get through without accommodations, but then to request special consideration on any marks from the lab component at the end of the term.

Good luck.



Lockheart
Deinonychus
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19 Apr 2012, 1:53 am

Thanks. You've given me some things to think about.

I think it would help if I knew what to ask for that was feasible, but I have no idea. Ideally, I'd like a quiet, relaxed environment with dimmer lighting. Clear instructions and being able to go through each step in order would be brilliant. If I could do the lab work over two, two-hour sessions, preferably on different days, that would help too. (By two hours I am exhausted.) Of course, I don't know how practical any of this is. University resources in Australia are pretty stretched.

If anyone has had this experience before and received accommodations, please tell me what they were. Did they help you? Were you able to do anything yourself that helped? Otherwise, requesting special consideration for marks on the lab exam might be the way to go.



9of47
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19 Apr 2012, 12:39 pm

When I was diagnosed I was already at the stage in Chemistry where the lab reports were due a week after the class rather than at the end of the session. All I requested was the ability to take small breaks as needed in consultation with the demonstrator. But then all the tasks were in order, there were smaller groups and I had a natural ability for it.

I would suggest talking to the disability office and requesting help in seeking the following accommodations:
* Rest breaks - 5 minutes per hour should be reasonable
* Preference to do tasks in order
* If there is more than one demonstrator/supervisor in the lab, for one of them to talk to you to help keep you on track
* Extra time (say an extra 15 minutes to half hour) for completion of lab work (this may mean you do the tasks at the expected pace with each display but then you have extra time at the end to fix up things you rushed through earlier.

These probably seem insufficient to you but the accommodations you'd get would have to be considered reasonable by the department. In fact you may just get one or two of those to begin with. If those granted are sufficient - yay. If you find those aren't sufficient after a couple of labs then pick one or two small things that would really help and go through the process again to get it.

You may also find that you need to do extra work to prepare for the labs, if you get given the lab outline before the lab itself. Not just knowing what will happen, but perhaps also seeing pictures/videos of what would be done in the lab and expressing what should happen in a way that makes sense to you - for example dot points or a flowchart. For the life sciences labs writing down/drawing prior to the lab what would normally happen/appear in each task could help. If you need help in figuring out the best way to prepare for the labs, asking the teaching staff would be a good idea. If you do that at the same time you're asking for those accommodations, they may be more generous with the accommodations if they can see that you are willing to do extra work too.



Lockheart
Deinonychus
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24 Apr 2012, 4:37 am

Thanks, 9of47.

Without disclosing anything to him, I've already spoken to a lecturer about how to prepare for pracs. I'm following that advice as best I can. Given that I'm having trouble managing my time (for life reasons as well as Asperger's - I haven't been terribly lucky this semester), it would be difficult to do much more. I'm hoping that I'll get a better run next semester and I'll be able to do some of the things you mentioned.

We're free to do the tasks whenever we want, however we want. I could take a break for five minutes every hour without permission, but I get so worried about falling even further behind. Maybe I'd work better if I had that break, but I'm too stressed and scared to try. The other three ideas are good ones. If I could do prac tasks in order it would be so much better, and an extra 15 minutes at the end would make me feel better about taking those breaks.

We had a nice, easy prac today. The instructions were clear, we could do everything in order and it only took an hour. Oh, the bliss. :D



9of47
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25 Apr 2012, 7:24 am

Glad I could help.

As it seems to be your first semester in this course, don't feel that you have to do everything to a high standard all the time. It's better to start small and at each subsequent session just do a bit better than what you did the last time. Most recruiters and grad schools tend to focus on later year grades anyway.



Piedmont
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25 Apr 2012, 1:01 pm

Hi,

I'm not familiar with how things are done in Australia, but I know a bit how things are done in the US. Here, professors who are regular staff are far more likely to follow any disability accommodations and not give you a hassle. Adjuncts, however, can be a pain.

Adjuncts are rarely given any guidance on how to deal with student accommodations. They often teach at more than one college, and usually juggle at least one job beside teaching, sometimes two or three. (They receive, on average about $2,000 to teach a 3-credit course, no benefits.) They tend to see ADA accommodations as extra hassle--no one's going to pay them for any extra time they spend. And many colleges do make ADA accommodations a hassle for the instructor. Delivering tests and paperwork is annoying but doable if you're on campus all the time. Adjuncts often only come to campus teach their class, or not at all, if they teach at a satellite location. Now, suppose the adjunct teaches a night class, but has to deliver the ADA paperwork, in person, during business hours, which isn't uncommon. Suppose they have to do this for every test? How happy are they going to be about the situation?

It's just the reality of college and university teaching in the States. My advice to anyone with ADA accommodations: avoid adjunct professors.



Lockheart
Deinonychus
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10 May 2012, 7:18 am

A little update... I'm working on putting some adjustments in place for the end-of-semester exams. I've spoken to the disability office and have told them what I think would help. The only thing is, they need a letter from the psychologist who diagnosed me. I've emailed the psychologist, but have no idea when she'll respond, if ever. I was diagnosed when I lived in a different city, 3000 kilometres away.

The disability coordinator must have spoken to at least one of my subject coordinators. I just happened to be the last student left in the lab today and my lecturer (also my subject coordinator for this subject) came up to me and asked how I was going and if I needed any help. It was a bit embarrassing. :oops: I do wonder if I'm making a fuss over nothing.