Going to College with Dysautonomia
It may be summer, but you only have less than a month away from school starting. College can be intimidating when you have a condition that can cause you to pass out without much notice. If you are someone with a form of dysautonomia or POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) who is contemplating college life, read on. These tips will ensure you have a seamless transition to college (or even high school) life.
Under the 504 law, colleges are required to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. The law protects individuals with disabilities who are attending institutions who receive federal funding. If you’re a college student, it is your responsibility to seek out disability services.
Most schools have someone on staff to help students with disabilities. Ask around so that you can meet with them to find out what you might need as they can likely help guide you to the accommodations that the school can provide. Finding an advocate is the best first step. Beyond that, here’s some ideas on accommodations you could do or ask for.
What Accommodations Do I Need?
Each person with dysautonomia may have different needs, but we’ve pulled out tips from people with POTS with ways to help manage life in college.
Cooling vests. During the hot months, it might be a good idea to invest in a cooling vest. Especially if you’re going to have to do any walking to class. These vests will keep your core cooled down and prevent any episodes of syncope. They’re usually lightweight and some even provide some compression.
Portable air conditioner. Schools likely won’t be able to update their HVAC systems as that’s not a reasonable accommodation, but they could provide you with portable air conditioners. Keep it on the desk near you and you’ll stay cool during class.
Talk to your professors. Maybe you might want a little more time to take a test or you’ve been in a flare and the paper or project you have due just hasn’t gotten done. Let your professors know how you feel at the beginning of the year. That way they’re not totally surprised when it comes up later on.
Choose your class times wisely. I am not a morning person. I have to wake up in stages and even then sometimes I still need a minute. If you fall into this category then be sure that you’re choosing afternoon classes when you know you’ll be at your best. If afternoons tend to be the time of day when you’re not able to focus any longer, then choose morning classes. Basically, avoid the time of day when you know you’re not at your best.
Keep electrolytes and salty snacks handy. It’s imperative you keep your sodium levels up. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that people with POTS get between 3,000mg-10,000mg of sodium daily. A water bottle is a constant need for someone with POTS and other forms of dysautonomia. Inside your water bottle needs to be medical grade electrolytes like NormaLyte that will help you maintain your body's fluid levels.
Use a rolling backpack. Carrying books, laptops, notepads, and such can be a huge burden on how you feel every day. When you’re choosing a bag, be sure to choose one on rollers that you can pull behind you. Rolling bags aren’t just for airports. The old saying of “think smarter, not harder” totally applies here.
If all else fails, consider hiring a 504 advocate. If you went to a public high school it’s possible you had a 504 advocate that was available to you. They may have helped you get some assistance with accommodations. In college, things are slightly different. If your college is a publicly funded school (most are) then they are required by law to accommodate students with disabilities. Within reason. For instance, they won’t be able to replace an entire HVAC system when it’s too hot inside during the summer months, but they may be able to provide you with equipment like the portable air conditioners mentioned above. Start at Student Affairs at your college, and if you’re not getting anywhere then you may want to consider hiring a disability lawyer.
College is Possible With Dysautonomia.
College is an amazing experience even if you have dysautonomia. Be sure to manage expectations of what that looks like for you. It may mean taking on lighter class loads or taking more than the usual four years to graduate. Communicate your needs and advocate for yourself the best you can as you enter college.
Oh, and don’t forget to hydrate! It’s so important to ensure you’re getting enough medical grade electrolytes like NormaLyte to make you be better prepared for anything college life might throw at you. Haven’t tried it? Great free samples here.