If you have a teen who is getting ready to go to college in the fall, you may be wondering, or dare I say, concerned, about what services they will qualify for. Or perhaps equally concerned about what role you, and your teen will play in advocating for those services.
I asked Lorri Comeau, an ADHD Parent Coach, Learning Support Specialist, and Educational Consultant to share some important information that will help you and your teen be prepared for the road ahead.
Paving the Road to Self-Advocacy for the High School to College Transition
Colleges and universities expect students with disabilities to self-advocate, but in high school, parents typically have this role. In higher education, parents are no longer in charge of their child’s learning needs.
The laws governing disability and higher education are different from the K-12 setting, and the process for accommodation is different. Students are in the driver’s seat, responsible for interacting with college disability services staff and requesting their accommodations. However, most high school students have little experience practicing self-advocacy skills. They may have sat in on a few IEP meetings but likely did not understand their role. Most students aren’t knowledgeable about their diagnosis, its impact on the academic environment, or the accommodations that will be most helpful.
Unfortunately, students with ADHD and/or learning disabilities enter college unaware of who they are as learners. How can we support students along their path to higher education? For students to become effective self-advocates ~ to communicate their learning needs and identify the resources they need when they need them ~ they need to be aware of the essential six areas below.
Here are the six essential areas that students, educators, and parents focus on. This information is adapted from my book/workbook that I co-authored with Mickey Cronin: The Essential Six, Volume One, A Parent’s Guide: How to Pave the Road to Self-Advocacy for College Students with Learning Differences.
- Know the diagnosis inside and out.
Be familiar with your diagnosis. Know what the diagnosis is and is not, how it affects your learning, and how it affects the academic, residential, and/or home environments. If your student does not know this, how can they be academically successful or successful with everyday tasks
- Acknowledge that you are an individual with a learning difference.
Simply put, a learning difference is identifying how someone learns – the challenges and strengths. Unfortunately, there can be a stigma attached to having a learning difference by the greater culture, peers, and even educators and parents. Students can internalize the negative stereotype that they are not capable learners. This can interfere with the development of a positive identity as a learner. A student needs to acknowledge that how they learn is one part of who they are, and that is ok. This is the first step in developing self-advocacy skills. Students need greater understanding and acceptance of themselves and their disability before they can self-advocate.[1}
- Become metacognitive.
Students need to be aware of how they think and learn and start to learn academic and life strategies that work best for them. Be aware of trying a strategy, assessing whether it worked or not, and then tweaking the strategy accordingly (part of self-monitoring). Repeat what works well and discard what does not. Students can maintain a learning strategies notebook, creating tabbed sections for challenging areas along with the strategies that work.
- Know the difference between the laws governing K-12 versus higher education.
Knowing the laws that guide services are important—the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guide higher education. The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) governs ages 3-21 in the K-12 setting. The main difference between the protections is that in higher education, students have a right to access the educational environment, whereas, in K-12, students have a right to education. Some services you receive in high school may or may not be appropriate within the college setting. Meet with a disability services provider in advance of choosing a college and learn about available resources and the process for accommodation. Explore the disability services office on the college website.
- Promote communication and collaboration.
Be aware of what you say and how you say it. Ask questions as needed and communicate what your challenges and strengths are. Remember that the student is responsible for themself (not the parent). Students need to understand and review areas 1-4 to communicate about their learning needs. As a result, they will better collaborate and communicate with disability services staff members and professors (as appropriate) within the college setting.
- Know the learning strategies that work best for you.
What are your academic challenges, and what are some solutions? Are you familiar with assistive technology options (Echo Smartpen for notetaking, Inspiration software for brainstorming and writing, and/or Speechify – a Google text to speech reader, etc.)? Success comes with knowing what works well, adjusting strategies that do not work, and remaining open to trying new ones. Keep in mind that your academic workload in college is likely greater than in high school. You might need to adopt some new strategies and accommodations from those you used in high school.
 Goldhammer, R., & Brinckerhoff, L.C. (1993). Self-advocacy for college students. National Center for Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from www.ldonline.org/article/6142.