How Parents Can Help Students Avoid a Common Mistake in Transitioning to College
Is your student with learning disabilities about to go to college? How exciting! College is truly a wonderful time—a whole new world.
It is not uncommon for students to feel like they can recreate their image when they go off to college. They can be anyone they want to be. No one knows them as “that nerd,” or the “class clown.” They don’t have to be the shy student or the gawky guy in class anymore. They have a second chance to decide who it is they really are - or want to be - in college.
All these desires to transform oneself can be very healthy; however, many students also want to be “cured” of their learning disabilities or ADHD when they get to college. Make no mistake about it, for many students with learning disabilities high school has been a difficult and complicated road. Although very bright students, they may struggled in high school on a daily basis to stay organized, focus for sustained periods of time, or master the material. They may have experienced elevated anxiety about tests and quizzes. They could never figure out how other students could pick things up so quickly – it just didn’t seem fair. Their lives were governed by a constant parade of tutors and coaches that seemed to overtake every waking minute. Medications that allowed them to focus also seemed to suppress their natural buoyancy.
High school has been downright difficult for these students.
In this whole new world of college, the understandable urge of some students is to forget about or deny their learning differences. Students who have achieved success in high school believe they finally have been “cured” of their learning challenges. But this is precisely the moment when they need to use the tools and techniques they have been taught in order to do well in college.
So how can you prepare your student?
1. Talk to your student about his or her learning disabilities before college.
As obvious as this may sound, many students do not have a clear understanding of their particular learning differences. They may never have seen a psycho-educational report or participated in an IEP or 504 meeting. This is due to a variety of factors that are unique to each family, but the bottom line is, it hurts the student’s ability to succeed in college.
The sooner students understand their own unique learning styles, the better able they are to accept those differences and seek out what they need for support. They must understand that their “differences” are just part of who they are. Everybody has SOMETHING that makes them different. This is one of your student’s differences: it isn’t good or bad - it just is. It will not stand in the way of success unless the student allows it to get in the way.
Being comfortable with your own learning style leads to success as a student. For these students, it is not a matter of having to be “cured.” Their learning differences remain and they understand what supports they need to succeed. So talk to your student frankly about these differences. Pull out that psycho-educational testing and discuss your student’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Make sure to point out how accommodations and services address specific weaknesses.
2. Help your student understand what support he or she will need in college and be sure your student contacts the Office of Disability Support well before classes begin.
Students must understand what supports they need to be successful in order self-advocate in college. Remember, the governing law for learning disabilities changes in college. Colleges and universities are only required to provide access to the curriculum, so students must seek out their supports. This includes being in touch with the Office of Disability Services on campus early and often, making sure that the necessary services and accommodations are in place before classes begin. It also includes understanding what additional learning supports are available to all students– the Writing Center, Supplemental Instruction, and whatever else a college offers.
Finally, talk through the transition with your student. Anticipate this desire to “be like everyone else.” Discuss how students frequently get into trouble by skipping medications, classes, and accommodations. Forewarned is forearmed! Keeping these simple ideas in mind will help your student get off to the right start in this new adventure called college.