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Special Education and College Readiness

Specialized college programs that provide support for students with learning disabilities, non-verbal learning disabilities, and Autism Spectrum Disorders are continuing to grow throughout the country. Although there is an increase in the number of programs that will assist students in receiving academic and social coaching, how do you know if a student is a good fit for a particular college program? Is there a hard and fast rule that indicates a young adult is ready to leave home, pursue college-level coursework, and live on his or her own? There are many aspects to consider in this process and ways in which parents, counselors, and educators can assist in fostering college readiness.

First, it is important to consider what supports are available at the college level. Different levels of support are offered for students with a diagnosed disability, depending on the particular college. It would be detrimental for a student to attend a college that does not offer the type of accommodations he or she needs in order to be successful. There are colleges that exclusively accept students with disabilities, as well as comprehensive support programs that offer academic and social coaching within a mainstream college or university. These programs typically charge a fee to students who are accepted in addition to tuition/room and board, whereas a specialized college accepting only students with disabilities will include this fee under the umbrella of the entire year’s tuition.

Every college is required by law to have an office of disability services. Through this office, students are required to advocate for their accommodations using current documentation (adult testing is required, within the last three years of the college application) and are typically offered less support than a specialized college or a comprehensive support program within a college or university. Some students fail to self-advocate for their accommodations and attempt to leave their disabilities behind them in high school. This can lead to a decline in grades, self-esteem, and a feeling of helplessness over their college experience.

In the area of college readiness, there are a few critical components to consider:

 

Awareness of disability: Can the student identify his or her disability? Does the student know what accommodations are needed in order to reach his or her full potential? Can the student advocate for these necessary accommodations? Understanding their disability and being able to relay this information to receive the necessary accommodations from both the office of disability services and their professors are critical to achieving success at the college level.

 

Interest in pursuing a college degree: Has the student demonstrated interest in pursuing education beyond high school? What does the student hope the degree will lead to in terms of a career path? Does he or she want to attend college simply because this is what his or her cohort is doing? Without a genuine interest in completing college-level work, students are likely to struggle with work completion and academic success. It is important to preemptively seek out support services that will be able to assist the student with the transition, prepare for a more challenging course load, and learn how to properly self-advocate.

 

Level of independence: Has the student ever lived away from home before? Does he or she have experience in caring for themselves (washing clothes, organizing materials, managing money, waking up on their own, etc.)? Has the student participated in an overnight camp experience or overnight program at a college? Does the student commute to and from school independently? Does he or she have an emergency plan of action for their commute? Is he or she able to manage money on his or her own to purchase meals, transportation costs, and recreational interests? Exposing students to life skills such as these will increase their chances of a successful post-secondary experience.

 

Executive functioning skills: Is the student able to wake themselves up in the morning for school with enough time to get ready? Does the student organize his or her own backpack, binder, school assignments, and after-school schedule? How does the student organize homework and long-term assignments? Does he or she use an electronic planner, iPad, homework pad, or iPhone? It is critical that students take the driver’s seat on these tasks that require advance planning, organizational skills, and time management. Practicing these skills during high school can lead to greater success in college.

 

The commonalities among the above questions are motivation and initiation. Both can increase the chances of success academically, socially, and emotionally, whether going straight to college is the appropriate path after high school, or if it is finding a job and entering the world of work. Many students feel ambivalent about the prospect of college, which is natural and to be expected. Touring campuses, participating in college summer programs, and having a thorough understanding of the accommodations offered and those necessary for academic success can aid students in gaining an understanding of whether or not they are ready for college. Working closely with a student’s guidance counselor can be very helpful in determining what options exist and which ones are the best “fit” for the student. Understanding the concept of initiation and self-advocating with professors, disability offices, and various learning specialists will aid a student in reaching his or her fullest potential after high school. Assessing college readiness is not a simple task, but one to consider based on a wide array of factors. Speaking with a child’s guidance counselor, teachers, camp counselors, as well as watching him or her interact with their peers may provide valuable information and insight that can assist in this decision-making process.

 

For more information, please visit www.aaronschool.org or contact Adrienne at anagy@aaronschool.org.

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