Written by Dr. Kimberly Williams
9/18/2015 at 7:18 PM
Sending your child to college can be stressful enough for parents, but perhaps particularly so for parents of students with disabilities. I have worked with college students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD and other disabilities for several years and there are a few lessons I’ve found to be critical for a student to set herself up for success:
Create a calendar and a detailed daily schedule.
Now that the first couple of weeks of classes are underway, college students should have their syllabi and due dates of assignments plugged into their calendars and a detailed daily and weekly schedule developed. While these simple tasks may seem fairly obvious to adults, to new college students, and particularly for students with disabilities, this task is often complex and challenging. Each day on one’s daily calendar should describe in detail exactly what is to be done at different times of the day. So not just “Stats homework” at 7pm, but more explicitly what stats homework is due and how much time you plan to devote to it. Short term and long term plans should be on calendar.
I tell my students that there really isn’t any “down time” in college. If there appears to be a hole in your daily schedule then you should be thinking about what long term projects need attention. Shared calendars like Google calendar are a great way for parents to help their kids stay on track.
Get help right away—don’t wait
Many college students with disabilities want to prove that they can make it on their own. While this independence can be admirable, most of the time they really do need the accommodations to which they are entitled to “level the playing field.” I’ve worked with many students who do not disclose to their professors that they have a disability. They do not seek help or work to get the accommodations they need. They will often wait until it is too late and they cannot recover the semester, and then they end up either on academic probation or in a hole that is so deep they spend much of the rest of their academic career trying to dig out of it. Getting help right away is really important.
Use the college/university services.
Hopefully your adolescent got contact information for the college/university’s center that works with students with disabilities over the summer. If not, have him do it asap! It is never too late. Be sure you child has the appropriate paperwork ready to bring to the counselors and support staff at the center. Often it helps to have a calendar of important dates of exams and due dates for papers to share with personnel at these service sites to get accommodations for extended time for exams, writing and editing help for papers, scribes, etc.
Seek additional help.
Most of the learning support centers on college and university campuses are under-staffed and do not provide the kind of individualized services and hours of support that many students with disabilities need to be successful—particularly as new students. Ask counselors and deans if there are additional resources and/or third party people who can help. I have been working as an academic coach for students with disabilities for years—not as an employee of the institution, but contracted by parents as needed. If your university doesn’t provide a list of potential providers, you may be able to find others online. Supplemental help can be very important to the success of your child. In addition, encourage your son or daughter to go to professors’ office hours with specific questions from class or readings.
Make a poster of all assessments and due dates and keep it visible.
Have your college student figure out from the syllabi all of the assessments in a course—all quizzes, exams, papers, presentations, etc. –everything that contributes to a course grade—including class participation. Most college classes do have a grade for class participation so if your teen is shy about participating, he should consider making a list of talking points from the readings and 1-2 key ideas he wants to contribute to a classroom discussion. Be sure to also include how much each assessment is worth. Have your child use this poster to prioritize –so, for example, she should plan on spending more time on something that is worth 25% of the grade than something that is worth 5%.
The overarching idea is to make every single day count toward academic success. Students with disabilities will likely have to put in more time than other students to be successful, so making good decisions about how to spend one’s time is perhaps the most important and difficult part of the college transition for students with disabilities. Investing up front on a good support person to guide your student through this difficult transition may well be worth it.
A course-by course or assignment-by assignment approach may have worked in high school, but in college a student who needs support must learn to identify and manage many more pieces of a puzzle than ever before. The kinds of overarching strategies described above are central to my approach to holistic, goal-based academic coaching and will help guide your student to success.
To learn more about goal-based academic coaching for students with disabilities at universities in Upstate New York such as Colgate, Cornell, Ithaca, Syracuse, SUNY schools and others, please go to my website at www.educationalsolutionscny.com.
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