Preparing for College: Students with Disabilities
The transition from high school to college is challenging for everyone; however, students with disabilities have more things to consider than their peers who don’t have a disability, so their transition can be a bit more challenging. Will they disclose they have a disability? Will they submit documentation of their disability? Will they access their accommodations or will they decide to try it on their own?
When students with disabilities enter college, the laws under which they are covered change. They are leaving an environment where their education was a legal entitlement and transitioning to an environment where it is a civil right to have access to their education. That is a big difference! More responsibility is now placed on the student. The student is responsible for managing his or her own education, and understanding his or her own functional limitations and is responsible for requesting accommodations. In essence, the student becomes the “manager” of his or her disability.
The first step in assisting your student in becoming the “manager” of their disability is to help them understand what their disability is and how it impacts them in an academic environment. So often when students include Disability Services in their tours or visits to campus, one of the typical questions asked of the students is what their disability is and how it impacts them. Often times the response is “I just need a little more time on my tests.” Extended time on a test is not a disability; it is an accommodation. Understanding the impact of their disability goes beyond the accommodations they use. Students need to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and what coping strategies aid them in compensating for their disability. Having an understanding of their disability will not only help them to develop their self-advocacy skills but will also develop their self-awareness.
Another way to assist your student in becoming the “manager” of their disability is to assist them in developing a support system prior to arriving on campus. Do they understand how to access the different support services on campus, and do they recognize “triggers” that indicate they need help? Connecting with Disability Services is an important step in developing their support system. Disability Services encourages students to disclose and submit documentation of their disability. Having everything in place prior to the start of the semester will ensure a smoother transition. Students are then able to access their accommodations when needed.
We have discussed the impact of transitioning from high school to college that students will experience, but how will your role change as your student transitions to college? All of a sudden your student is now responsible for many of the things that you took care of when they were in high school. You may feel that you are no longer needed in some ways, but you are. Your role shifts to a subtle hand of guidance. Support your student’s problem-solving skills and provide guidance or advice, but don’t rush in to save them when problems arise. Communication is vital in the transition process for both you and the student. Make sure your student understands your expectations and allow for mistakes. Students aren’t perfect and will stumble along the way. Realize that making mistakes is all part of the learning process.
This is an exciting time for both parents and students. You both are recreating yourselves into your new roles. Remember there is a tremendous amount of support on campus for both of you. Embrace this next chapter!