Counselor Intervention in the Post-Secondary Planning of African American Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Transitioning African American students with learning disabilities from high school to post secondary education requires that school counselors be flexible in their roles and functions. This is critical as school counselors work within personal and sociohistorical prisms that impact counseling programs and services for this population. The authors emphasize points of awareness to which school counselors must attend in their work with African American students with learning disabilities. Ethnically appropriate counseling interventions are also discussed.

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Meeting the needs of African American students with learning disabilities requires that the school counselor don hats ranging from individual counselor to advocate. The unique needs of students dictate the role of the school counselor at any given rime. The degrees to which these duties are performed have been shaped by the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally known as The Education of the Handicapped Act, Public Law (P.L.) 94-192. Passed by Congress in 1975, amended in 1986 and 1990 (at which time the name changed to IDEA), and reauthorized in 1997, the Act mandates that schools and all supporting personnel grant a free and appropriate public education to children (birth to 21 years of age) with disabilities (Baumberger & Harper, 1999; Glenn, 1998; Pierangelo & Crane, 1997). Under the auspices of the Act, school counselors assist students in negotiating personal, social, educational, or developmental issues that impact their academic and future life experiences.

The educational process for African American students with learning disabilities can be precarious given membership in two historically oppressed groups. Historically, being African American or having a disability in U.S. society bas resulted in restricted or denied access to academic, social, and economic opportunities. Resultant stigmatization can contribute to failure to reach full personal potential (Herbert, & Cheatham, 1988). As African American students with learning disabilities prepare to enter post-secondary settings, school counselors can facilitate their school-to-school transition by developing a comprehensive transition plan which emphasizes family, sense of belonging, and overcoming oppression.

Specifically addressed in this manuscript are (a) knowledge of African American students with learning disabilities, (b) African American family connections and sense of belonging, (c) barriers in post-secondary education, and (d) school counseling interventions. First discussed, however, is the importance of school counselor self-awareness regarding issues of ethnicity and disability.

SELF-AWARENESS

It is imperative that school counselors be cognizant of their own personal biases as related to working with African American students with learning disabilities. School counselors need to be aware of who they are culturally and ethnically. Attention must also be given to attitudes about disabilities, their own and others. Before school counselors can work successfully with students with disabilities, they must understand how cultural and ethnic identity as well as disabilities relate to their own life circumstances. Failure to take a personal inventory regarding attitudes and beliefs on these matters may translate into interactions that serve to interfere with their effectiveness in the school counselor's role.

Attitudes toward African American Students

Many perceptions of African American student competencies have been framed by racial undertones that stem from historical hostilities among groups. Bobo (2000) evidenced current studies indicating the prevalence of negative racial stereotyping of Blacks by Whites, for example. White stereotypes of African Americans as less intelligent seem to be equated more with environmental and cultural traditions; whereas in the past, this idea was more readily assigned to biological origins. …