Monday, May 14, 2012

Next Steps for College-Bound Students with Learning Difficulties

High school seniors have generally made their college decisions and are focusing their energies on end of year activities such as proms and graduation. But for students with learning disabilities and other issues which can impact their learning, there are important things to do between now and the start of college to make sure that they are set for success in the fall. 

This is the time -- after you have been admitted and have accepted a place as a freshman -- to make sure your accommodations will be in place when you arrive on campus. For those students who have been accepted to specialized support programs at their college, there will probabably be a great deal of outreach to you to make sure your paperwork is complete. You will have had to submit current documentation of your learning or other disability as part of your application, and one of the benefits of these programs is that they will help to make sure you will receive all the accommodations you require. 

If you are like most students, however, it is your responsibility to communicate with your school's Office of Disability Services (ODS) to make sure your documentation is up to date and complete. There is still time to arrange for the kind of documentation your school requires to validate your entitlement to accommodations. This documentation can range from a full neuropsychological and educational evaluation (such as those we do here at The Yellin Center) to medical documentation of an ongoing physical condition. Every college has guidelines that clearly describe what they require and forms for you to use to submit your documentation. Get them from the college's website as soon as possible and make sure you submit the required information to the ODS without delay.

Once the documentation is complete, you need to speak to the ODS staff to arrange specific accommodations that will meet your individual needs. Are you used to a particular kind of text-to-speech software? Will you need extended time for your exams? A quiet exam location? A note-taker? Colleges are required to provide accommodations for you that will "best ensure" that you are able to access the campus, your classes, and the curriculum. But that doesn't always mean that you will get every accommodation you seek or that you will get it in the form you are used to using. You need to make sure that your documentation clearly outlines how your disability impacts your academic and residential life and what "academic adjustments, auxiliary aids and services, and modifications" (from the language of the Americans with Disabilities Act) will be necessary because of this.

Keep in mind that once you are granted accommodations you still need to take several steps to put them in place. You will need to pick up the forms documenting your accommodations from the ODS, provide a copy of the form to each professor, and then follow up before each exam to remind the professor that you will be needing accommodations for the exam. Remember, unlike in high school, the responsibility for obtaining accommodations and having them implemented falls on you. By starting early and keeping the lines of communication open, you will be able to start classes in the fall with all the supports you require for success.

Photo: Briles Takes Pictures/Flickr Creative Commons

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