Wednesday, November 27th, 1996
© 1996 Will Small
There are many colleges and universities in the United States that have good track records when it comes to accommodating learning disabilities. The quality of any given college’s response is subject to the vagaries of funding, administrative fiat and the current image an institution is trying to promote. What was once an effective, coordinated support program one year, may turn into a vague assortment of academic support services the next. The commercially available guidebooks to colleges and universities for students with learning disabilities do a fine job capturing most of the institutions and what they offer the students.
Services/Accommodations that May be Available to LD Students at Selected Colleges and Universities
- Preferential or early registration
- Counsel on which courses to take given an instructor’s style and sensitivity to learning disabilities
- Reduced or redistributed course load (e.g not taking a number of heavy reading courses simultaneously)
- Skills development and remediation (reading, spelling, writing, math)
- Modified exam arrangements (oral, untimed, extended time, scribe, use of word processor for essays)
- Assistance with note-taking (note-taking buddy, taping lectures)
- Course waivers and substitutions (foreign language, sometimes in math)
- Assistance with proofreading
- Use of calculators, spelling aces, lap computers in classes
- Taped textbooks, readers, electronic text readers (text recognition synthesized speech machines)
- Assistance with developing oral expression
- Speech and language specialists
- Assistance with personal organization
- Assistance with time management
- Writing, reading, math, study skills centers (be careful, some have
- Support for students on medication (e.g. students with ADHD)
- Social skills training
- Training and support in developing and maintaining motivation and attention
personnel who know little about the needs of students with learning disabilities)
Questions to Ask When Visiting a College
The published guidebooks to colleges and universities for LD students do a great job in delineating questions to ask. Check out any of these books for more on this.
Here are some questions many students and parents fail to ask when visiting a college/university:
- Ask to speak with current users of support services and/or their parents (see next section for suggested questions to ask)
- Ask if they track their LD graduates; if so where do they go? Graduate school, employment?
- What’s the retention rate of LD students?
- What types of in service or support does the institution offer faculty re: accommodating students with special needs?
- Is support, tutorial, instruction in the program offered by interns, graduate students, peer tutors or trained professionals? (this questions may give you a sense for how they staff the program which may give you an idea re: institution’s commitment to the program)
- Ask how accommodations are determined and granted at the college and who grants them? Are they based on the high school IEP? This is a critical question as some colleges may tie accommodations to what was on the IEP. That means it’s important to pay attention to your education plan and what’s on it in high school. They may also tie accommodations to what was recommended or discussed in the summary/conclusions of your testing. If you know you truly need an accommodation, discuss it with your learning specialist and make sure it is documented while in high school.
Questions to Ask a Current User of the College’s Support Services
- Does your advisor understand your needs?
- Are professors responsive to your needs?
- Do you receive assistance in advocating to difficult professors?
- Can you receive support when you need it or do you have to wait?
- In talking to this student, explain what you will need in the way of support services and ask the student if she/he thinks you will receive those services.
On the issue of whether to disclose your LD or not in the admissions process, that must be your decision. My experience suggests that it may be best to disclose. By disclosing you can have appropriate accommodations identified and granted should you need them at some point, rather than facing the disclosure and accommodation granting processes in the middle of an academic crisis, say, in your junior year.
Start your college search process early. If you are going to disclose your LD and ask for accommodations, note the date of your last educational evaluation and check that against what the colleges consider “dated” testing – don’t wait until senior year of high school to do this.
Many high school guidance offices are aware that students with documented learning disabilities may be eligible for special accommodations for the SAT, but may not be aware that this also holds true for the PSAT.
College admissions folk will look at your transcript as part of the admissions process. They like to see that even with your LD, you’ve challenged yourself in high school. They’d rather see challenging courses with C’s than all “breeze” courses with A’s and B’s.
Most all of the LD college students I’ve spoken with have said that the most important skills to develop in high school are: note-taking, self-advocacy, time management, written expression w/a computer. They urge high school students to develop these skills early on – make sure that they are reflected in your IEP or Education Plan in high school. Students: if you haven’t been actively involved in the development of your IEP, ask to be included in the process.
If you were granted a waiver of the foreign language requirement in high school, make an effort to take something in its place – be creative, consult with your learning specialist about some options – sign language? computer programming language? This type of proactivity will illustrate your willingness to work hard and is something you can boast about in the application process.
If you can’t get a waiver for a college level foreign language requirement, lobby to have American Sign Language or a programming language to substitute – if you have to take a language, consider Latin or Spanish because of the number of cognates and their regularity.
If an essay is required as part of the application process, consider discussing your journey to cope with and understand your learning disability as the subject – this may help the admissions committee see that you are comfortable with who you are and that you are a self-advocate.
Once you’ve narrowed down your college list, if at all possible, request an interview with admissions even if they are not required. For students with LD’s, the interview can be the factor that tips the balance in favor of acceptance.
Take advantage of any early orientation or registration programs offered during the summer before your freshman year – it’s a great way to get acclimated early on – take photographs and/or a video and once home use to review campus landmarks and important buildings: student center, dorms, student support services, library, dining hall.
In the few summer weeks before classes begin in your freshman year, practice setting your alarm and getting up early at home – spend some time reading and writing each day. If you’ve purchased technology for college, open it, plug it in, and get used to it before your first day of classes.
If you are going to tape a class lecture, make sure you simultaneously take as many of your own notes as possible – use the tape to fill-in what you didn’t get in class – do this daily; if you don’t the tapes will pile up quickly and you will be overwhelmed.
If you are regsitered with Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, get your book list for freshman year AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and contact RFB&D to see if they have it on tape – many students forget to match edition and copyrights – doing so will avoid the confusion of mismatched text, pages and chapters.
If your college offers a “students with LD support/discussion group once a week,” go. This is an activity that can not only allow you to vent, it’s a great way to learn new compensatory strategies and which faculty are supportive.
Survival Guide for College Students with ADD & LD
ADD and the College Students
Unlocking Potential: College and Other Choices for Learning Disabled People:A Step-by-Step Guide
Schieber & Talpers
Adler & Adler Pub.
Succeeding Against the Odds
J. Tarcher Pub.
My favorite, full of tips, case histories, questions to ask, clear explanations of learning disabilities.
Promoting Postsecondary Education for Students with Learning Disabilities
Brinckerhoff, Shaw & McGuire
This is the bible on postsecondary education and support for students with LD written for service providers, but a great resource to see what colleges can and should do.
Note: Shaw and McGuire are affiliated with the University of Connecticut, Brinckerhoff was affiliated with Boston University and is now in private practice in Boston, Massachusetts area.
Colleges with Programs or Services for Students with Learning Disabilities
Peterson’s Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities Mangrum & Strichart
The above two books are good resources for identifying colleges and universities that may be appropriate, both offer great tips and how-to strategies chapters preceding the listings.