Selecting a College for Students with Learning
Disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ERIC Digest.
by Taymans, Juliana M. - West, Lynda L.
Students with learning disabilities (LD) or attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (ADHD) approach the transition from high school to college with
an array of learning strengths and needs. They need to understand their
own abilities and guide their own transition planning by looking at various
postsecondary options. If college is the path chosen, investigating postsecondary
programs to find the right match is a crucial step. In general, postsecondary
support services are less intensive than secondary special education services.
Students need to become experts on how to engineer their academic success,
a process that requires experiences that build self-insight, self-advocacy,
WHEN TO BEGIN COLLEGE PLANNING
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that
the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team consider post-school goals
when the student is about to enter high school at about age 14. Beginning
at age 16 (or younger, if appropriate) a statement of transition services
needed by the student must be included in the IEP. High school experiences,
both academic and social, greatly influence future options for all students.
For adolescents with disabilities, these experiences are pivotal.
Transition plans should be grounded in the student's goals and vision
for life as an adult, career interests, extracurricular and community activities,
and the skills the student needs to progress toward his or her goals. Planning
should include preparation for proficiency tests and other assessments
needed for postsecondary academic work (e.g., SATs), as well as the development
of self-determination and self-advocacy skills.
During the last 2 years of high school, diagnostic testing should be
conducted to further define the LD or ADHD. Colleges require documentation
of a disability (i.e., results of tests indicating the presence of a disability)
in order to provide support services; having an IEP or Section 504 plan
in high school is not enough documentation to obtain services from colleges.
Students entering postsecondary programs will need to present current assessment
data in order to receive accommodations at college.
Even for students who have struggled academically in high school, postsecondary
education may very well be a possibility. Students who wonder whether college
is a realistic option can explore summer pre-college courses for high school
students who have completed their junior or senior year. Alternatively,
students can take a college course the summer before they enroll to get
to know the campus, learn how to use the library, and sharpen their study
strategies and time management skills.
UNDERSTANDING STRENGTHS, LEARNING NEEDS AND THE SUPPORT NEEDED
Students must understand their strengths and learning needs not only
to be successful in coursework, but also to identify the accommodations
they will require. For example, will they need academic support services
such as math labs, writing workshops, reading courses, computer labs, tutoring,
or counseling? Will they want to take courses to improve social skills,
study skills, learning strategies, communications skills, or assertiveness?
Understanding and using technology can be another key to success. Computers
and related technologies are expanding opportunities and increasing instructional
access for numerous individuals with LD and ADHD. Students should consider
both instructional technology (e.g., computers, tape recorders, or videos
used as a means of instruction) and assistive technology (technology used
by individuals to compensate for specific disabilities).
Assistive technology is most effective if it accentuates an individual's
strengths and minimizes areas of need. Selecting appropriate technology
for an individual should take into account the individual's learning profile,
the tasks and functions to be performed, the specific technology, and the
contexts of use (Raskin, 1998). For example, word processors with text-to-speech,
outlining, word prediction, and speech recognition capabilities offer assistive
capabilities depending on a person's specific disabilities. Technology
is like any other tool: The challenge is to find the technology applications
that work best for the individual and learn how to use them. This takes
an investment of time and money, but the payoff can be increased productivity
and creativity (Malouf, 2000).
UNDERSTANDING LEGAL RIGHTS
Once students with disabilities graduate from high school, they are
no longer eligible for services provided by the school system and will
not have an IEP. If they have been receiving rehabilitation services as
part of their transition plans, they can continue to receive them. They
will have an Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP) and may be eligible
for services such as postsecondary education, counseling, and vocational
evaluation and assessment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bars discrimination against
students with disabilities in the college application process. Once admitted,
students may request reasonable accommodations to allow them to participate
in courses, exams, and other activities. Most colleges and universities
have a disability support services office to assist in providing accommodations.
IDENTIFYING THE DESIRABLE CHARACTERISTICS OF A COLLEGE
Once the student's strengths, learning needs, and level of support needed
have been delineated, it is time to look at the characteristics of colleges
that might be a good match for the student. Consider various types of colleges:
two-year colleges, public community colleges, private junior colleges,
four-year colleges and universities, as well as graduate and professional
schools. Students with LD and/or ADHD can succeed in all types of schools,
including the most prestigious.
Students must determine the characteristics of colleges that will make
them happy and support their success. For example, how big is their high
school? Will they feel more comfortable in a larger or a smaller college?
Will they be happier in an urban or a rural area? Can they meet the academic
requirements? Should they find a college that doesn't impose rigid prerequisites?
Should they consider enrolling part-time rather than taking a full course
load? What are their academic and extra-curricular interests?
In looking at colleges, students may also want to consider whether progressive
attitudes toward instruction prevail. Colleges that are using instructional
techniques and electronic technology in a flexible way can increase students'
success. For example, if courses are web-based so lecture notes or videos
of presentations are available online and can be viewed multiple times,
then students have natural supports built into a course.
FINDING AND COMPARING COLLEGES
Like all students preparing to choose a college, students with LD or
ADHD must identify colleges that appear to have the desired qualities and
select a few candidate colleges for further investigation. They need to
visit colleges, see the right people on campus, and be prepared to ask
the right questions.
Students with disabilities must also look at other factors. They should
investigate the support services offered by candidate colleges, discuss
them with college staff (e.g., personnel in the Office of Disability Support
Services), and verify that the services advertised by the college will
actually be available to the student. For example, is tutoring available?
Will extended time be allowed for taking tests? Is someone available to
help with taking notes or preparing written work? Will college policies
allow extended time to complete a course of study so that fewer classes
may be taken over a longer period of time?
Furthermore, students with LD or ADHD must decide whether and to whom
to disclose the presence of the disability. To obtain support services,
students must self-disclose their disabilities to the Office of Disability
Support Services. That office will notify professors of the necessary accommodations.
Students are not required to give faculty information about a disability,
but to obtain the best course work accommodations, they must be able to
explain their needs to instructors. Therefore, students will want to investigate
specific classes before they register for them. Some strategies for becoming
informed about classes are listed below:
* Participate in orientation programs. These programs provide opportunities
to become familiar with campus life and to ask questions of continuing
students and advisors about classes, faculty, resources, and services.
* Don't procrastinate. Do not wait until the last minute to begin gathering
information about courses and professors. Most Offices for Disability Support
Services will allow students with disabilities to register a few days before
* Talk to other students. Other students are an excellent source of
information about classes and professors.
* Audit classes. It is possible to observe a class for a limited period
of time to determine whether this is the right class. Students who audit
a course are not responsible for exams or assignments.
* Check the Internet. Most colleges and universities offer an increasing
amount of information, including the course syllabus (outline of the course),
objectives, textbook, readings, and assignments.
* Meet the professor. Professors have scheduled office hours to answer
questions about the course. Getting the textbooks and reading list ahead
of time also allows students an opportunity to get a head start on the
For many individuals with LD and ADHD, the transition to adulthood will
be a time of positive self-discovery, but it will take trial and error.
Goals and successes can sometimes be elusive, and the hidden nature of
LD and ADHD can pose special challenges. Careful preparation for the transition
to college can help.
Embich, J. & Leconte, P. (2000). Diagnosis: Now What? In J.M. Taymans,
L. L. West & M. Sullivan (Eds.), Unlocking potential: College and other
choices for people with LD and AD/HD (pp. 69-94). Bethesda, MD: Woodbine
Malouf, D. (2000). Understanding and using technology. Unlocking potential:
College and other choices for people with LD and AD/HD (pp. 232-242). Bethesda,
MD: Woodbine House.
Mangrum, C. & Strichart, S. (1997). Peterson's colleges with programs
for students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders.
Princeton, NJ: Peterson's Guides.
Raskind, M.H. (1998). Literacy for adults with learning disabilities
through assistive technology. In S.A. Vogel and S. Reder (Eds.), Learning
disabilities, literacy and adult education. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing
Taymans, J.M., West, L.L., Sullivan, M. (Eds.). (2000). Unlocking potential:
College and other choices for people with LD and AD/HD. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine
RELATED WEB SITES
Association for Higher Education and Disability--http://www.ahead.org
Peterson's Education Center--http://www.petersons.com
Internet resources cited in this document were current at the time of
publication. Please note that Web addresses are subject to change.