The college admissions process for the parents of children with learning disabilities is, at best;challenging and demanding. Not only must students with learning disabilities contend with their own unique set of learning challenges, they must also deal with institutional barriers to access to higher education. For example, in a study investigating how high school counselors rate the appropriateness of post-secondary school options for students with learning disabilities, counselors selected vocational training as the most appropriate option for students with learning disabilities even though the students functioned at an academic level equal to students who were preparing for college.
While college does not have to be the goal for all students with learning disabilities, the accumulated evidence of the last two decades definitely supports the belief that students with learning disabilities can be successful in college. Parents need to be vigilant to ensure that counselors, teachers, administrators, and college admissions officers do not stereotype students with learning disabilities solely as candidates for vocational training.
In the college admissions literature, authors have stressed the belief that the most effective college advisory service is that which involves the student, the school counselor, and the parent as partners in the college planning process. Unfortunately, in many of today's secondary schools, it is the parent component of this partnership that is frequently overlooked or ignored. With this in mind, the following suggestions are presented to assist parents as they work to include college as a viable postsecondary option for their children with learning disabilities. The suggestions are presented in an elementary-middle-high school sequence (Editor's Note: Next month will look at the high school level.). Parents should keep in mind, however, their child's level of maturity and readiness, and not his or her grade level, in determining how they might best help their child to prepare for a happy and successful college experience.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LEVEL
Research indicates that nearly two-thirds of all students who enroll in college have their first thoughts of attending college while they are in grade school. Therefore, it is wise to begin the college planning process at an early age (such as fourth or fifth grade). At this level, the focus is mainly on increasing the child's awareness of the importance of education and familiarizing yourself with the applicable laws, regulations, and policies governing the education of young children with special needs.
What parents can do for their child
* Obtain official documentation that identifies your child's special needs. Diagnosing the type and extent of your child's learning disability is the first step in helping your child achieve academic success. If you believe your child is experiencing difficulties because of a learning disability, get in touch with your child's counselor or principal. A diagnosis can be made by a psychologist, an educational diagnostician, or by a learning disabilities specialist. The diagnosis is the information gathering process that will help you determine the most effective way to plan for your child's future. The diagnosis should explain how your child learns. It will assess his or her strengths, and indicate how your child compensates for areas of difficulty, and will suggest appropriate accommodations. The diagnosis is essential if appropriate services are to be provided.
* Familiarize yourself with federal and state regulations that affect children with learning disabilities. Federal legislation such as Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112), the Americans With Disabilities Act (P.L. 101-336), the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '97) guarantee certain services and opportunities to students with disabilities that will support their academic development. …