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Transitioning to college.....have you btdt?

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There is a thread on the high school board about transitioning kids to college and although good advice, it doesn't always apply to special needs kids. If you have been there done that, would you mind telling us how it's going or went? Could you have done more to help? Should we do more to help them?




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We have not gotten to that stage yet, but I have heard more than one person talk about how important it is for the student to understand their disability and be willing to self-advocate and accept the accommodations and services that they qualify for. I think some students go to college and want to try managing without the extra support and accommodations, and at that age neither the parents nor the school can make them use the help they qualify for. So by the time they go to college, they need to be able to choose to use the disability services offered.


Our local private school for learning differences says that in their high school program they focus on self-advocacy skills, organization and planning skills, and finding an affinity (meaning something that the students are really good at and want to keep pursuing).

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We are not there, but The Coffee Klatch network has an older podcast about this very topic, and it's great. It goes beyond accommodations as well. I highly recommend it. Their site can be a bear to search, but if you subscribe to the podcast, you can find it in the list of old episodes.

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Yes I'm there - but as so often happens on the boards, it's harder to share about this than about the smooth sailing parts, kwim? These kids are now adults and it's not really our story to tell anymore. 

But I think I can tell you some general things. 

Ideally, the student would have their paperwork all lined up and make contact with the disabilities office and take whatever accommodations they are entitled to. Sometimes the same offices also have the student counselors for emotional/psychological support and I think it's a good idea to make contact there as well and establish some rapport so if there are troubles ahead, they already have a person/office they know they can go to for help. 

We were thrown by the fact that once that contact is made, at our college the students are given a form and they have to approach their prof with it. It doesn't seem like a big deal now but first week in, when dd was figuring out everything, it added huge stress to her and felt really awkward. Being prepared for that would have helped so I guess find out what that process will actually look like so it's not a surprise. 

They should know *what* they want to ask for too - ability to record lectures, extra time on exams, ability to type in class (some profs normally don't allow open laptops in lectures) etc. To some extent the accommodations are driven by the diagnosis but there is some leeway & they may have tech requests which can be added (see below for tech) 

They should ideally have a good understanding of their LD and what their coping skills/workarounds are. If, just for ex, one of the issues is with executive function, don't sign up for any course without a clear syllabus (to which the prof sticks!). Which brings me to a follow up - check ratemyprof and pick your courses and teachers as much as you can. The ones that are organized, sympathetic and helpful will usually have that mentioned in the reviews.  Avoid profs with poor reviews or with teaching styles that will not work with your LD. 

Know the rules about dates by which you can drop courses with no penalty and dropping & taking the W on the transcript etc. If you end up in a course which you can tell the first week will be a dud or the prof is not sympatico, drop it (if you can)

They should have excellent independent study skills before arriving. Knowing how to take notes, to read assigned reading before a lecture, to do all problems, to go to tutorials, to attend the instructor's office hours, to find out if there are copies of old exams (legitimate ones! Our college library has copies of old exams which can be accessed.), to get help if they're lost. 

Understanding how they learn best, for example how they'll tackle a subject which requires lots of memorization (mindmapping, recording, mnemonics, memory palaces - whatever tools they need to use) etc. Because they're coming in with a deficit in 'traditional' learning skills, the more they can hack their learning methods before they arrive, the better equipped they'll be to tackle the actual content of the courses. 

Figure out what technology tools you want to use & get used to them before  you arrive. My dd loves her smart pen.  It's one of the things she has to constantly add to her accommodations because nobody really thinks of putting it on the forms. If you've never seen one in action, they're so neat! They record the voice & you write on special paper.  Later when you tap on the page, the recording will start automatically where you were writing so you can hear exactly what was being said. So even if you're not able to get a concept down, you could just make an asterisk and then come back & listen to what was said.  The notes can get transferred to a computer & again you can listen to them and see the text. 

Recording lectures used to be so common! I remember 30 years ago many of us had little tape recorders & some of my profs just recorded themselves all the time & the tapes were available for from the department secretary. Now recording is much stickier. Many profs don't want to be recorded at all so you have to get it on your accommodation if you want to do it & you may still need to sign an additional agreement swearing to use it only for that semester and to destroy the recordings afterward etc. 

Other tech things might include voice recognition, mind mapping software, electronic flash cards (load on your phone & on the computer for studying any time). Also time management software: all the programs to lock you out of time sucking websites, to lock your phone so you don't get distracted by it during studying etc.  

Figuring out which ones you like & how to use them all before you arrive means again that you hit the ground running & ready to learn. 

Last but most importantly - confidence that they can do this, they've GOT this. They might need to do it differently but they can do this. 


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The post above me is an excellent foundation for preparing for college.  My ds started 4 years ago and I've learned a lot and I've also seen some changes being made to the system (some I'm thinking are not that great). 


Before you apply to a college check out their disability department.  What services do they offer and how difficult does the process look to deal with?  You can get a good feel from the forms and the types of questions they ask on those forms.  I learned from the my ds' disability counselor at the CC level that the bigger universities don't go out of their way to do a whole lot (despite the laws) for students with disabilities because they can attract other students to fill those seats that don't require assistance.


Paperwork needs to be in tip top order.  Ideally the medical provider/expert should have a letter written out that spells out all accommodations needed; if the accommodations are not listed the school won't necessarily provide (although our disability counselor added a few).  it is much easier to have a longer list of accommodations and not use them than it is going back to provider, getting additional accommodations on a new letter and re-submitting for new MOAs.


I did attend the meetings with DS that first year at CC.  Gasp!  Helicopter parenting I know but my ds wanted me there to be sure that he processed everything.  This was new to both of us because he had never taken outside classes so we were unsure of how the process would work out.  The counselor was very welcoming and she spoke directly with my ds and all decisions went through him.  She did advise him to meet with his professors prior to the start of the course to introduce himself and provide the written MOA.  They could ask questions and he was free to answer them and it allowed him the privacy because it was at the professor's office versus students standing in line waiting their turn before/after class.  That first semester I waited outside these offices and twice he came and got me because he wanted me to be at the meeting (one guy was a cold fish and just wanted the piece of paper - ended up dropping that course).  Basically I was there when my ds wanted me to be there and over time he got stronger and took control and after that first year he has been flying solo.  I'll never forget the communications professor that looked at my ds and then at me and said "Are you sure he's signed up for the right course?"  (It was for public speaking and he assumed since my ds was hearing impaired that it would be a problem.)  We talked through it and the professor quickly learned that my ds had a gift for public speaking - hearing impairment is not something they see as much as other disabilities).  Meeting with those professors was definitely a great start to the semesters but after the 2nd year he stopped doing it before the courses started but rather after the first class.


But alas, here is where there have been changes to the system and I'd imagine this trend will begin to make its way across the states - the MOAs used to be printed on letterhead and signed.  Student was provided a copy for each class that he/she is enrolled in.  Well, last semester they now do everything electronically.  The counselor sends the letter via internet to each professor.  I can't remember if my ds saw a copy of it before it was sent.  Well, one of his instructors doesn't even use the computer so never saw the MOA  until he brought it up because he was having an issue in the course (professor wasn't providing something from his MOA).  I think this might cause some issues is instructors knowing which students need those accommodations as it isn't always obvious.  Also, we ran into the issue of subbing instructors being unaware - especially when they ended up subbing longer term. 


Ratemyprofessors is a great tool.  It helped my ds avoid taking a course where English was not a professor's first language (he can not process well with accents).  Excellent resource.


You have to specific accommodations for using equipment that used to just be standard (like recording a class lecture).  That is no longer allowed and unless it is written it is a no-no.  And be prepared - that accommodation for a note taker - biggest disappointment!  You are to go and ask a student if they will let you copy their notes (or you provide them this special carbon paper) and you hope that you've chosen a student that is a good student!  My ds needed to use this accommodation but it ended up being way too stressful so he worked around that with requiring the professor to provide an outline of lectures but sheesh, talk about a violation of privacy.  My dd was in a math class with a visually impaired student and he had to go around and ask people if they'd give him copies of their notes.  There has got to be a better way!!!


One big key factor I found is making sure they don't sign up for more courses than they can handle.  Slow and steady - especially in the beginning.  Just because all the kids typically sign up for 15 credits doesn't mean you should or have to do as everyone else.  My ds took 12 credits and those classes in the first year were exhausting!  Very exhausting!  It was like running a marathon.  You needed to train for that type of mental and physical input and output.  His final semester is finishing up and it was the first time he took 15.


A new trend that I'm seeing with my next child that is at CC is the online course environment (I'm trying to get my 3rd child ready).  CCs are turning away from printed texts to online learning environments.  Everything is LearnSmart.  Lots of repetitive multiple choice questions.  My kids have to learn more from the online environment and the in-person lectures were not necessarily flushing out necessary details in the lessons for mastery.  I'm not a big fan of online.  I know it seems like a no-brainer because the texts could be read aloud, etc. but screen fatigue after lecture fatigue - really takes some balancing and adjusting which is hard for many LD students. 


Gosh, I could ramble on .... but these were a few quick thoughts that came to mind when I read the topic.

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