Graduating from high school and getting accepted into college can be an exciting time for students. At the same time, it’s also a transition period that leads to new change and growth.
This may not be a problem for the average student, but for students with learning disabilities, this transition can be an overwhelming process. The irony, though, is that more students with learning disabilities are getting accepted into colleges each year.
Therefore, it’s even more critical to address this question: Why is this crucial transition process is so difficult for students with learning disabilities?
Overpowering Independence and No Self-Advocacy = Struggle
Part of the reason could be that students with learning disabilities in the K–12 level receive their accommodations through federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or have psychological evaluations as well as an individualized education program (IEP) via psychologists working for their schools or school districts. I can speak of this through my own experience, as my school psychologist diagnosed me with a learning disability while I was in kindergarten. I received an IEP document specifying the services and support I would need for school. However, this all changes when students enter college. Instead of the school administrations taking the responsibility of immediately providing accommodations for students, now the students have to be proactive and seek out accommodation services their colleges offer on their own … something that these students are hesitant about.
Why is this the case? Of course, there is a multitude of factors, but research has stated that a key cause of this stumbling block is that the school system focuses on curriculum rather than focusing on self-advocacy of the students themselves in terms of preparation for college. In fact, according to research conducted at Walden University, when students with disabilities enter college, some aren’t even aware that they must disclose their disabilities to the college in order to receive accommodations! Even more surprising is that some of the students who do know also do not make an attempt to disclose their disability. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), additional reasons for this hesitancy include:
- A desire to establish an identity independent of their disability
- Shame or fear of being perceived as lazy, unintelligent, receiving an unfair advantage by requesting accommodations
- Fear of receiving no response or a negative response from faculty who may not know much about certain disabilities
- Being unaware about what kinds of disability services are available in college or how to access them
- Having a high school transition plan that does not specify postsecondary accommodations
This is why self-advocacy is critical for students with disabilities to acquire, because this skill would allow these students to not only be confident in themselves but also confident enough to rely on themselves to explain their disabilities and receive accommodations. More importantly, self-advocacy will also be a handy skill to apply as soon as these students enter the workforce.
Advice for Students
Seek out any resources that can assist you with self-advocacy, self-confidence, and self-worth, whether it is through means of a psychologist, counselor, organizations, friends, parents, or group conversations. Additionally, I highly encourage you save all your documentation of your diagnosis for both your own records and for the records of the disabilities accommodation program of your respective college.
To make the transition easier, do some background research on the college of your choice and see which accommodations they provide for students with learning disabilities. Take a tour of the college campus and see where your classes are located. Another option is to go to community college prior to transferring to a four-year university. In fact, this is the route I took, as I believed going to a four-year university was too dramatic a change for me. As a result, I spent three years at a community college completing a majority of my science and math classes, getting familiar with the feel of a college campus, and figuring out how to apply for disability accommodations (on my own, of course). Today, I still believe that the transfer route was the best decision I’ve ever made, both academically and financially. Nonetheless, you must still be proactive into discovering the route that is best for you. The sooner you start self-advocating for yourself, the better your chance for not only graduating from college but also being successful in life.