Support for Students with Learning Differences in College: Do Your Homework!

This is the second article by College Parent Central contributor Dr. Lynn Abrahams.  Lynn specializes in college transition and success for students with learning differences.

Over the past ten years more and more programs have been created to help prepare and support college students with learning differences. In fact, there are now so many models out there that it has become crucial to do your homework before making the decision about the best post-secondary environment for your student. As a learning disabilities specialist over the past 30 years, I have seen families pay a tremendous amount of money for programs that may not be the right fit, because they did not fully understand what was or was not being offered.

Here are a few issues to keep in mind:

 Support in High School

Look at how much support your student is getting in high school. Shifting the amount and type of support when entering a new college environment is not usually a good idea.

  • Is your student in a substantially separate classroom?
  • Is your student fully mainstreamed in all high school classes?
  • Is your student in college preparatory classes?
  • How much time does your student get for support in a resource room?
  • How much time does your student work with other therapists, such as speech and language, occupational therapy, English language learner support, or counseling?

Support Between High School and College

Decide whether your student needs extra support before going to college. Take an honest look at whether a pre-college program would help academic, social, or emotional readiness.

  • There are summer-before-college programs designed to help students with learning differences prepare for the academic and social shift to college.
  • There are post-grad and transitions programs that may give all types of students an extra year to prepare academically and mature emotionally.
  • There are travelling, volunteering, or working gap year programs, or simply the choice to live at home a work for a year.

Support in College

Study the different models that are out there for support while in college.

  • At one end of the continuum are colleges exclusively for students with learning differences. In this environment, all the professors are learning specialists who understand the many challenges students may face. This may be a good environment for starting college, until confidence and skills are built.
  • At the opposite end of the spectrum are colleges and universities that have an Office for Disabilities and are federally mandated to provide testing accommodations. In this situation, it is very important to ask who will be supporting your student (learning specialists? professors? peer tutors?) and how much time the students are allowed to have with those support people.
  • In the middle of the continuum are mainstream colleges that offer a support program, a vague term that could mean separate classes for a semester, or mainstream class with support from either professionals or peers, or a tiered approach to support that starts with a separate program and weans students off. These programs often have an extra cost, in addition to tuition.

Keep in mind that the right fit for the first year of college may not be the right fit for the third year of college. Your student will mature and change (really, they will!) and the need for support services will change as well. If you and your student look carefully at the different models, chances are higher that you will find the environment that will foster success.

Related articles:

Making the Shift from High School to College When Your Student Has Learning Differences

The Delicate Balance of Support and Self Reliance

Helping Your College Student Find Support on Campus

Why Is My Student in “Developmental” Classes?


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