Increasingly, the nation’s higher educational system is awakening to the needs of its special students. Today, gifted students with learning disabilities or AD/HD can choose among colleges that offer a wide array of services and programs designed to meet their unique learning needs. The application process is one that starts months, or even years, before that first day on campus.
Normal teenage procrastination, coupled with organizational problems suggest that this search should start no later than the second semester of junior year to avoid adding unneeded pressures during the fall of senior year. This process is critically important. Choosing the right college will help these unique students make the most of their educational experience.
Psycho-educational assessment, awareness of the student’s learning strengths and weaknesses, and good old-fashioned research are the key components of the application process. As students and their parents make their way through this process, qualified professionals are available to help them make the most of the available resources. The goal is to help these students uncover their greatest potential.
Psycho-educational assessment should be done as early as possible in a child’s life if parents suspect or know that the child has learning disabilities or AD/HD. It should be done again during high school. The reason is that in order to receive accommodations in entry testing or in college, the assessment must be recent – done no more than three years before the date of the application. Any re-assessment should ideally be done just before or at the beginning of the junior year of high school.
Colleges require documentation as to the areas of educational impact. The documentation should address the severity of the condition and provide justification for requested accommodations. Therefore, the psycho-educational assessment report should include a DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) diagnosis along with a description of the student’s strengths and an indication of how the student compensates for areas of difficulty.
At this point in the student’s life, he or she is old enough to understand the information and diagnosis included in the psycho-educational assessment report. Understanding how one learns is the first step toward making changes, followed by choosing to get assistance and setting realistic goals. Students who are able to articulate their personal learning style, whether it be in the classroom, in setting up a course of study, in personal tutorials, or even in determining a living and study environment, are much further along in becoming their own advocate and succeeding in the college of their choice.
Once psycho-educational testing has been completed, strengths and weaknesses have been identified, effective study habits have been initiated, and a comfort level regarding an individual learning style has been developed, the student will be better able to evaluate the educational options available to him or her.
The process of applying to take college entrance tests must begin early enough to allow time to process any requests for accommodations and for responding to any questions that may arise. Your child’s high school guidance counselor or an independent educational consultant can help you in understanding updated guidelines concerning eligibility for extended time testing and in learning what other accommodations are available. Remember that receiving standardized testing accommodations has nothing to do with receiving accommodations at the college level. These are two separate processes.
For information on nonstandard testing for the PSAT or SAT, contact The College Board at https://www.collegeboard.org/students-with-disabilities or at Services for Students with Disabilities, 609-771-7137. For the ACT, contact the American College Testing Program (ACT) at http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/registration/accommodations.html.
Each student, no matter what his or her social, cultural, or educational background, must select a school that best meets the student’s own needs. For students with LDs or AD/HD, the selection has increased substantially in recent years. Changes as a result of laws have brought about unprecedented accommodations and availability of learning aids. A few of these aids include the use of computer hardware and software, tape recorders, recorded textbooks, and extended time for testing.
Levels of support, shown in the chart below, vary greatly among colleges, ranging from the most basic to individualized, structured programs. Categories of support include minimal, moderate, developmental, and comprehensive. The size or type of college generally has no bearing on the degree of support it offers. While students may not need to use specific accommodations all the time during their college career, it is important to evaluate up front whether an academic setting can provide the range of programs and supports that may be needed to assist a student at a specific point in time.
General services for all students; might include a writing or math center and counseling offices
Usually have none of the following:
Those who are:
A popular and fast-growing option for most schools and students which includes:
Generally show more sensitivity toward LD/ AD/HD students and may offer:
Same as above
Programs exclusively devoted to students with learning disabilities and attentional disorders that embrace the entire psycho-social aspect of learning with disabilities including:
Same as moderate-level schools plus:
Those who require:
Same as those of moderate- and comprehensive-level schools
Those who are:
With the wide range of options available to GT/LD students, proper research is essential to choosing a suitable academic environment. Students can accomplish much of the initial research through the Internet and specialized college guide books. Many college websites now contain information concerning support services, programs, and appropriate documentation. A high school guidance counselor, college counselor, or independent counselor specializing in colleges with support services and programs can help to identify and evaluate the available options, and to advise the student as to whether he or she meets the admissions standards set by these colleges. A counselor may be able to assist with accommodation requests, testing services, application preparation, and college interview preparation, as well as provide other related services. This process should be helpful in determining whether a given college has the environment the student needs to succeed both academically and socially.
Many students are surprised to discover that the colleges they visit are interested in them as individuals, look positively at their accomplishments, and are equally dedicated to forging a successful match. Students are advised to approach these colleges with confidence in their own strengths and with the knowledge that they will contribute to the college and the campus environment, as well as to their own future. The more students know about themselves, what they want, and what each school offers in terms of academics and support, the easier and more successful the college application and college selection process will be.
Nancy Rosenberg is an independent educational consultant in the Washington, DC area. She holds a M.Ed. from American University in Special Education-Learning Disabilities and a M.A. from New York University in Guidance and Personnel Services. She is a Certified Educational Planner who, for the last 15 years, has worked exclusively with students with AD/HD and learning disabilities. She also specializes in offering workshops and presentations for groups of parents and students at schools or by special arrangement.
This article is reprinted with permission from the 2e Newsletter and the author.
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