Cuts to ADHD screening on campus

Centre still waiting for provincial contract to be finalized

The assessment centre is cautious of students looking for Adderall or Ritalin as “study aids”.

Budget insecurities have forced the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) on the Queen’s campus to cut ADHD screening tests indefinitely.

RARC, located in Macintosh-Corry Hall, provides psychological and educational assessment services for secondary and post-secondary students from the Southeastern Ontario region. The centre is often the first step for students in the diagnosis of learning disabilities. 

The assessment centre’s previous funding contract, provided by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, expired as of March 31. 

According to Dr. Allyson Harrison, clinical director at RARC, the centre hasn’t confirmed a new budget with the Ministry.

“We have not received any word on what the new budget will be,” Harrison told The Journal via email, “except that we should not expect any increases.”

In response to budget uncertainties, the assessment centre has ended its ADHD-specific screening tests. 

Before the budget expired, the centre had a lengthy ADHD screening process. Undiagnosed students who suspected that they had a form of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) — whether solely an attention-based deficit (ADD), a hyperactivity/impulsivity issue or a combined disorder — would first be presented with pre-diagnostic paperwork.

The first diagnostic form asks for information regarding a student’s current problems, the duration of these problems and any other reasons they believed they have ADHD. Students were also given with self-reflective and observer report questionnaires, to be completed by those close to the student (friends, family, etc.) who are able to comment upon their difficulties. After the paperwork, students underwent a clinical interview and an ADHD-specific screening tests. According to Dr. Harrison, the process took three to four hours per patient.

 “If the tests suggested that serious attention problems existed,” Harrison said, “the student would be referred for a full psychoeducational or neuropsychological assessment."

RARC Graphic

These tests have now been erased from the diagnostic procedure. The RARC didn’t comment on where the funds used for these tests will be re-allocated if funding remains consistent.   

However, Harrison said full assessments are rarely needed. The vast majority of post-secondary students screened for ADHD in recent years were not diagnosed with any form of ADHD. 

“Over the past five years, of the 146 students screened, only seven were eventually found to have ADHD,” Harrison said. 

The ratio could be affected by students looking to obtain and abuse drugs, such as Adderall or Ritalin, as “study aids”, according to her.

“This is, indeed, a serious problem,” Harrison said. However, she said it wasn’t a factor in the RARC’s decision to alter the screening process.  

With the elimination of the screening test step, referrals will be based on the forms students fill out and clinical interviews. Dr. Harrison said the decision benefits the Centre’s operating costs. 

“The [previous] complete screening process was costing RARC a significant amount of money, given the cost of test materials and the professionals’ time,” said Harrison. 

“If the forms and intake interview suggest a full psychoeducational or neuropsychological assessment is warranted, the student [will] be referred directly to further assessment facilities.”

The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities told The Journal via email that they are currently in the process of reviewing documents provided by the RARC to renew their agreement for 2015-2016. 

The ministry didn’t comment on the possibility of budget cuts, but instead highlighted the investments they’re currently making in student learning disability services. 

“On February 6, 2014, the government announced an action plan to strengthen transitions to postsecondary education for students with disabilities,” May Nazar, ministry media relations, said via email. “Over three years, $1.5 million will be invested in this plan.”

Nazar said there was a 45 per cent increase in funding between 2002-2014, when an additional $48 million was provided to support students with disabilities. 

He didn’t comment on whether the upward trend will continue, but he said a new budget plan is imminent.

“It is anticipated that the agreement will be finalized shortly.”

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