“Dis-orientation: The College Transition for a Child With a Learning Disability”

            This is a very dirty secret. So dirty that I am ashamed to be the one to share it with you. But I feel obligated to begin a shift toward transparency in the higher educational world that your child may be exploring. Here it is: only 28% of American students with LDs will graduate from college, according to the Florida Policy Journal. The question is: will your child be in the 72% that falls short of the finish line? And what will you invest emotionally and financially on that journey?

            The truth is that nothing has ever been easy for your child, has it? We won’t even talk about the homework struggle all these years. Or the backpack bomb, the speech therapy, reading specialist, Kumon, “Your Child Can Learn” strategies. The good news is that he or she has indeed learned that hard work is the only way to accomplish goals. They just had to work twice as hard for sometimes half the result of their typical peers. Yet, often, they are star athletes, musical prodigies, artistic free spirits, out of the box when all you dream about is how to get them to clean up, get started and get organized.

            Enter college. Parents who have managed the fallout of the slower processing, the testing accommodations, the managed expectations, the frustration and tears, the meds, the impulsive behavior are now expected to relinquish their roles and look on like a NASA shuttle launch, fingers crossed as they drive away in the family SUV. How is this system setting up student with an LD for success?

            First, let’s consider how high school differs from college. In high school, most of a student’s day is spent in classes and scheduled. In college, most of the student’s day is spent out of class and unstructured. In college, most of the course work is done independently with little supervision or correction of homework. In high school, the opposite. In college, some courses are graded entirely on a midterm and final exam. In high school, grading is based on many more factors. We can begin to see how college learning is going to challenge your child with a learning difference in ways unique from their typical peers. Add rushing a fraternity or sorority, an NCAA sport or simply the social and emotional transition to living away from home and you’ve got a recipe for dis-orientation.

            There is an answer. It is all-important. Choosing a college that will support your child’s learning needs. Find colleges that want to know students on a granular level; ones that adopt evidence-based multi-modal instruction.  Seek colleges that offer wrap-around services that are sufficient to meet the needs of the student. High touch matters in this high-tech world, especially for students with learning differences. Why? Because new research out of Harvard shows three categories of student dispositions in the college transition process: thrivers, copers and strugglers. Thrivers have an LD but they transcend and rise above it. Copers find a way to make their way through. But strugglers can’t quite seem to find their way. The difference? Thrivers and Copers report having at least one adult in college that were their academic cheerleaders. Look for colleges where there is an abiding presence of adults who will believe in your child and will move them to achieve self-awareness and self-advocacy. Yes, these colleges exist. If you want help identifying them, I would be overjoyed to help guarantee that your student with a learning challenge gets that framed paper on the wall and all the pomp and circumstance they deserve.

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