Post high school education can be challenging for students transitioning from high school with special education services on little or no transition planning. Concerns about self-care, class preparation, and social interactions are ever-present for all freshman. However, especially for students with who have been fully supported with special education services through high school, the changes can be hard. Some of the questions parents may find themselves wondering about that first semester may include:
Is my child using the learning support services?
Has the teacher provided them with their accommodations? If not has my child asked for them?
Is my student sleeping all day, or living on a restricted diet of junk food?
Are they hanging out with “friends” instead of doing their school work?
Are they playing video games or watching television late in to the night, and missing their classes?
All freshman encounter these challenges, but for students on the autism spectrum or with ADHD not being prepared for independence before college can be the difference between success and failure.
Transitioning to college with learning disabilities
If students don’t understand the nature of their disability, moving from high school to college with learning disabilities is difficult. This means they can define their strengths and weakness and can explain to others what they need to succeed. Middle and high school transition planning is part of the process that helps teenagers acquire the skills of independence needed to navigate college successfully. When entering college students must know how to discuss their disability, request services, and be aware of the strategies and supports they need to succeed at school.
In college, students are required to self-advocate. They manage their own schedules and recognize when to seek out additional support. In addition, they schedule additional appointments such as tutoring, writing support, and seek out professors to answer questions and make a special request as needed. Weak self-evaluation, initiation, planning, and time management skills can make these tasks overwhelming. It’s important to start working on self-advocacy skills in high school.
Colleges and universities, work with students with special needs differently than high school special education department. Colleges provide the accommodations but expect students to access and advocate for services independently. High schools provide all the services a student needs in a classroom setting. Teachers and assistants anticipate student’s needs and recognize, at least to some degree, how to manage those needs. Students aren’t required to understand their disability at the high school level. However, In college, professors may understand little about working with students with disabilities. In college accommodations such as extra time on tests, the use of special programs for reading text, or programs that create music notation must be requested.
Case Study: It takes a village including the student
A student with written language challenges attended college. His parents spoke with the school and provided all the necessary paperwork. However, the student did not receive necessary accommodations. Only after failing classes, did he learn that he was eligible to use a special program? He did not ask the teacher for other accommodation and was never informed that he was eligible. The program was not revealed by the school until a crisis, a letter sent home stating he was suspended from school. After many calls and reminders to the school about his accommodations, he was allowed to retake the classes over the summer using the notation program. He passed.
Most colleges and university have writing centers, tutors, special programs and specialist, but students need to know what they need, when to request it and how. In high school, during the last year, students should be relatively independent in requesting support and accommodations. Good transition planning should target the development of strong self-advocacy skills.