Special needs students after high school: Dos and don’ts
There’s five minutes left in the exam and Andrew has barely made it through half the questions. It’s not that he struggles with the concepts — it just takes longer for him to piece together the equations in his head because he “sees” the numbers backwards. Andrew has a learning disability, and his is not receiving any special services for it. Now, imagine today’s exam is the SAT or ACT and the results will determine if Andrew gets into the college of his choice, or, into any college.
In most cases if your child or teen is not classified with a special education designation during elementary, middle or high school, he may never be. Not for lack of disability, but because it is much more difficult to begin the process after the primary and secondary school years. Most, if not all, universities and colleges will recognize and provide special accommodations for your undergraduate student if he/she informs the school of his/her disability. The process is often seamless where the documentation of need already exists in the student’s records; unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
As a father of college-age students, I know first-hand how hard it is to let your young ones go out on their own. But now that they are adults — maybe not in your eyes, but certainly under the law — you should let them take charge when dealing with their post-secondary education as you try and guide them in their choices. Here are a few tips for your son or daughter to review before speaking with a university or college about their disability…
First, federal law does not require you to reveal your disability. If your do not want to share — meaning you also do not want to receive special services from your school — you do not have to. It’s completely up to you. Your disability — whether a learning disability or something more severe — is your personal information and you have the right to share, or not share, that disability with the school administration. If you do decide to share, any post-secondary college or university you apply to cannot reject your admission based on that disability alone. If you believe a school has discriminated against you based on your disability, it is definitely time to contact an education attorney.
If you do have a disability and would like to receive accommodation for it after high school, what schools call an “academic adjustment,” the first step is to inform your new school. Larger post-secondary schools will have a center or office dedicated to helping students with disabilities. If no such department exists, the best course of action would be to start with your academic advisor who will help set up the academic adjustment, or get you in touch with the appropriate office. Your school will most certainly require adequate and timely documentation to confirm your disability. A recent IEP or 504 plan from your high school will often serve to satisfy your college. After all, it was your high school special needs identification and those services and accommodations that very likely helped you to gain acceptance at your college.
Academic adjustments take many forms, whether it’s a smaller course load, extra time on an exam, special help in a problem area of study such as math, or, in certain narrowly drawn cases, alternative course requirements within the curriculum. Your school is required to work with you to provide you with the accommodations that will effectively suit your disability while maintaining the school’s diploma-granting authority. That being said, your school is not going to bend over backwards to cater to your needs. It is required to help you under federal law, though it will do it in a way that best suits its own needs as well (i.e. financial). Your school should work with you from here on out in a interactive process to ensure that your are receiving the services your disability requires. If you are unhappy with your services, talk to you school, and do so early on, rather than waiting — you’re the one who needs to take charge if there an issue with your academic adjustment.
If you believe your school is not providing the appropriate services, it’s best to talk to a Disability Services Coordinator (if your school has one on staff) or an education attorney to ensure that your school is complying with federal law. If your school is not, then it is time to take action into your own hands for the betterment of your education.