Amsterdam School of International Business

Life@AMSIB - Studying with a disability


For the latest Life@AMSIB, we interviewed Sophie who is rocking her studies despite her disability. She has encountered difficulties throughout the years but received tons of support from AMSIB. Helping other students with disabilities or other struggles is her dream; read further if you want to know her story and want to know how to get help if needed. Please note that the student's name has been changed in this article to protect his/her privacy. 

Disability need not be an obstacle to success.

Stephen Hawking - Founder, Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, Cambridge University

What disability do you have?

I was diagnosed with a combined type of ADHD in February this year. That basically means I have both the inattentive and the hyperactive parts of ADHD; I am struggling to concentrate on things, I am moving and talking a lot, and I have problems to just sit quietly and learn.

When I look back at my time in school, I realise now I mostly struggled with the traditional way of learning. So, basically, I was never really able to sit still, read a book and actually learn. For me that was hell.

Did you have any doubt applying for International Business or you were sure that is what you want and are able to do?

Well, I was first at Havo (Dutch secondary school), when I was looking into a very different programme - journalism. Then I discovered that that was not what I wanted to do. I knew I liked English, I had economic-based subjects at high school. So I had to look into the economic based business. I really liked the international part, that was one of the main reasons to choose this programme.

I do have to admit that it is easier to focus on things you like, for example, a lot of people with ADHD have hyper-focus which means that if you were really into something, you can just sit and study it for hours. I don’t really experience hyper-focus. That is the reason why, when I read through the symptoms list, I thought I cannot have ADHD because I don’t have hyper-focus; concentration for me is one of the biggest problems. Even though I don’t experience hyper-focus, it is still easier to study something you are interested in because you think it is more fun. Of course, not every subject you encounter is going to be fun or your special interest, but it does make it easier in general if you like the programme.

Did you experience any difficulties during your studies? And did you get support?

Yes. Now I am in my fourth year. The first year went quite okay. I had a part-time job, but I noticed that it was too difficult to combine studying and working. I was not doing well mentally and did not know what was going on as I was not diagnosed at that time. I quit that job after the first year to focus on my studies. After that studying went fine. But the main issues came when I started my internship. I started right before receiving my official diagnosis. When I had to start with the group therapy for ADHD and had to try out new medication, I told my internship company that I needed to have a day off every week. I explained about my diagnosis and told them that the new medicine might have brief effects on my body, but I would still be able to do the work that I did before, it might just take a little more time.

However, this company was not suited for an intern at all right now because they were too busy. They did not have the time to train someone. So, they basically hired me as a full employee of the business, which is not fair. So that was the first problem. And when I told them my diagnosis, they were first understanding and later, there was a huge shift in which they basically blamed me and my ADHD diagnosis for a lot of things.

They told me I was not doing my job well because of ADHD. They did not see me as anything else besides my disability. I could not cope with the situation anymore. I set up a conversation with my company coach and my supervisor from AMSIB. In that conversation, the company coach said that they knew I did not have my diagnosis before but if I would have had, and I would have said it, they would not have hired me, which is plain and straight discrimination. This is definitely not a situation that you will encounter everywhere. However, it was a situation that I did encounter during my internship and it was just straight, straight up discrimination based on a disability, which is illegal. And they also spread medical information without me knowing, and without my consent, which is also illegal.

Fortunately, I received a lot of support from my supervisor from AMSIB. He was very kind, he was very patient also. Within that conversation, it was so clear that what they said, wasn't fair.

There are two student counsellors. I spoke to one of them to inform him about my diagnosis because students with a disability can get help. To begin with, you can get extra time on tests. Secondly, he can guide you during the internship stage. He tells your supervisor from school about your condition so that they are aware of it and can offer extra support such as helping you to understand the internship guide and the rules and regulations. You might get an extension of the deadline too. The third thing that he can help you with is the thesis. He can plan it with you together and help you to understand the thesis guide.

Do you have any tips for students with ADHD or similar disabilities?

What really helped me was to have something in my hands that I could play with during the lessons. That helped me to concentrate without disturbing the other students. I had one of those plastic hair ties, but it could also be a fidget spinner or anything else. When it comes to learning, I was never able to make summaries on my own because that would mean that I had to read a book, and I lacked the concentration to read. I would definitely advise to ask your fellow students for help. They could provide you with summaries or explain concepts to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And definitely involve the student counsellors as they can support you a lot during your studies.