As we gear up for a new school year, it’s a good time for the college-bound and their families to turn their attention toward creating a smooth transition between high school and college life, in particular for students who contend with learning and attention disabilities that complicate this new stage.
If this is you, heading off to college can feel both exhilarating and loaded. Especially when considering your goals of adjusting to new rhythms of academic and social life on campus while also introducing yourself to student service administrators who will ensure that you receive accommodations and services to which you are entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights act that ensures a range of entitlements for documented needs. As this New York Times article highlights, you are not alone: some 11% of college students require these accommodations for issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mobility issues, medically based disabilities, and dyslexia.
This is understandably a source of concern for you and your parents. The professors to whom you will hand your certification for accommodations will be familiar with this process from having taught other students who receive test, note-taking, or other accommodations. However, professors are content experts and usually not process-focused when it comes to students’ learning. Reports such as this show the ongoing need to sensitize educators at all levels to less common disabilities such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Nevertheless, even among this unusual though ever-growing area (approx. 1 million new TBI cases are diagnosed each year, teens age 15-19 among the two highest risk groups), I have found educators at all levels eager and committed to providing for the hundreds of students with TBI with whom I have consulted over the past 20 years.
The ADA, professors, and your university’s student service center are on your side. You can also build upon the advocacy skills you and your parents have developed in high school and while ensuring appropriate standardized test prep. You also have your parents, who know you well and can assist you in starting this process, and you have the encouragement of teachers and other advisors from your high school days.
True, you are moving from a structured, supportive home life to a seemingly limitless, and therefore harder to organize, dorm life. You are ready for this, and you can ease the transition by putting into place systems that will help you enjoy the fun of meeting new friends in the dining hall, take a broader range of classes, and enjoy new experiences beyond the lecture hall, like pledging for a sorority, trying a new sport, or volunteering at a local agency.
It’s only natural for you to want to cast off your parents in great anticipation of a much more independent form of existence. However, don’t be too quick to cut those parental strings, as you will need their support, guidance, and reassurance. And they may just remember which crate contains the file with the testing report that needs to be provided to the Disability Office.
It is normal to want the freedom to do it your way and to simultaneously feel a tug to check in with your parents at this time. Developmental psychologists have conducted studies over the past twenty years that suggest that the late teens and twenties are their own unique life stage in which this push-pull happens. It is sometimes referred to as “Emerging Adulthood.” In fact, according to the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, directed by psychology professor Jeffrey Arnett, “Most young people still want their parents’ guidance and support as they navigate their way toward adulthood.”
With that in mind, below is a checklist of practical matters you and your parents can attend to before you head off to college:
- Verify that neuropsychological testing and other documentation are up to date and ready to be filed with the Disability Office. Call or e-mail the office before arriving to set up an appointment to meet with one of the officers to review your case.
- Discuss with your parents whether you are comfortable providing written consent to the Disability Office for communication with them. Some good reasons to do this are (1) stressful times, like before exams, and (2) if the schools needs to contact your parents to confirm that additional materials from local specialists have been received at the office. The office’s contact with your parents may also prove helpful if you have mobility concerns or medical issues that necessitate some breaks, or if you at some point need accommodations due to medical reasons.
- Develop and practice a script that communicates what your learning style is and why you require accommodations. In my work at Ivy Prep Learning Center, I coach my students in this process of understanding themselves as learners and how to communicate not only the what of entitlements (which are required) but also the why, i.e., the context of why certain accommodations are necessary. This helps professors understand, and may perhaps even lead them to fine tune their methods of instruction or assessment. It also gives them insight into you as a person and why a specific accommodation is important, be it access to PowerPoint presentations in advance of lectures or the opportunity to clarify essay questions when taking tests at an off-site location.
- Use your last sessions with your hometown learning specialist to develop a list of strategies and materials you have used in the past that may serve you well when going forward. At Ivy Prep, we prepare lists for our students that include the essentials of their learning styles along with a reminder of ‘tried and true’ strategies, PDFs and links to charts, and other resources that have been useful in upper school and the college application process: the chart you used for note-taking in you AP Psychology class may also do the trick in outlining responses for your freshman writing seminar.
- Locate a local learning specialist (if none on campus) for transitional support if it is not provided at your school.
- Practice executive functions for list-making, time management, transitioning between places, and estimating time required for tasks as you pack up your bags for the big move.
- Set up and practice using your new computer and other technology throughout the summer. Update your apps and software, and be sure to set up a schedule for offsite backup .
- Practice using a calendar app or time-management software.
- Review syllabi or key readings from prior versions of courses you might take or preview the supplementary websites for your survey courses. Identify which ones feel more user-friendly to you and how long it might take for you to read a chapter outline.
- Arrange for a bank account and other services over the summer, and practice using them with parental guidance. Start by making a list of the life skills you will need: using a credit card, shopping for and preparing food, doing your laundry, negotiating public transportation, defensive driving, etc.
- Meet with your psychopharmacologist to check on dosage and get a supply in advance of leaving. Discuss alcohol use and driving limitations. Also, whether you can monitor your needs with the university health service or if you will need a local specialist.
- Incorporate midterm and finals dates onto your calendar and in planning family visits or vacations over Thanksgiving and other holidays.
- For the first semester, consider taking more familiar coursework or a lighter course load, and discuss policies for summer courses at local universities or five-year university options.
These are some suggestions to give you a head start in taking what is perhaps your first big step away from home. But we also want to hear from you (and your parents, too)!
College-bound students: What advice do you need? What are your greatest concerns?
Parents: What advice do you give your children as they head off to college? Please share suggestions of what has proven most valuable.
Graduates: What was the best advice you received before or during your college years? What advice do you wish you had received but didn’t?
Images: Wikimedia Commons.