Kathleen Ross-Kidder, Ph.D., Director
College for Students with Learning Disabilities and/or ADHD.
A new school year has begun. New teachers are met. IEP implementation hopefully has begun with needed accommodations correctly in place. By now high school student should have a transition plan in place. Plans for most students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD should include continued post-secondary education. Even if your son or daughter’s school staff seems to say your child cannot go on to higher education it is important for you to know that many students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD do make successful transitions to both four and two-year colleges. Others will find programs that train for specific vocations outside of a university setting.
This newsletter looks at the college application process for students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. Successful transition requires planning. Planning should begin once high school begins.
Case example: Bill was a student with a learning disability. His visual-motor skills and nonverbal reasoning skills were relatively weak, but well within the normal range of abilities. His verbal abilities, on the other hand were in the superior range with a verbal comprehension index score on the Wechsler of Intelligence Scales for Children of 138. Bill struggled in a high school in a rural community where teaching staff had little training in how to accommodate. As you might expect Bill did not like to do written work and often did not turn in homework assignments. Bill was also diagnosed with ADHD-impulsive type. Teachers knew that Bill was a “special education student” but understood little more about his learning needs. They knew he did not turn in homework or when he did the work was often poorly done. They also knew he did not pay attention in class. His grades were low between C’s and D’s for the most part with A’s showing up in World History, a class that Bill loved “because we got to talk about the ideas of the world and see how they related to our life today,” Bill noted, and in Music where Bill was able to demonstrate excellent abilities playing the trumpet.
Bill’s counselor met with him to go over his plans for once he graduated from high school. He told Bill he had two good choices. He would help Bill find a job with a local contractor who was hiring people for pool construction or he could go on to a Community College to obtain a two-year degree in some trade skill area. Bill opted for the community college route where he was scripted into the remedial English Lab to “improve his writing skills and his vocabulary skills” based on his “poor” performance in high school. The high school counselor did not suggest to Bill that he could seek accommodations at the community college. B ill found the remedial English class boring. He failed it three times and finally left college for good. He put on a work uniform and began to work for a local commercial building cleaning company, a job that brought in a reasonable income until the economy began the down turn and he became unemployed.
Depressed, Bill now sought help for his depression. Unfortunately I see this type of case too often. Too often options of college and college success are not presented to students with LD and/or ADHD. Such students are not encouraged to take courses to meet diploma requirements for university study. Bill did not know he could go on to college. His teachers did not encourage him. His counselor did not remotely suggest that a more advance university program was possible or that even at the community college level accommodations were possible for a student with a diagnosed learning disability. With successful planning and advising Bill today should have had a four-year college degree!
Can my child be successful in a college program?
Too often in my private practice I find that both parents and teachers assume that college is not possible for a student with a learning disability. Bill’s case is a summary of clients with whom I have worked. Told about college options they are surprised.
Let’s look at the data. As a faculty member of The George Washington University each semester I have students with LD and/or ADHD who are successful and who receive accommodations through the University’s Disability Support Program. As adjunct faculty at several other universities including George Mason University, Marymount University, University of Mary Washington, and Georgetown University student with LD and/or ADHD have been in my classes with successful accommodations in place.
The number of students with learning disabilities who graduate from high school and attend post- secondary education has increased for the past 20 years. (Foley, 2006) The National Longitudinal Study of the Outcomes of Youth with Disabilities found a significant increase in the number of students now graduating from high school and moving on to two and four-year college options. Within four years of leaving high school, 46 percent of young adults in 2005 were reported to have enrolled in a postsecondary school versus 26 percent in 1990. Many of these students elected community college programs with an increase in reported enrollment of 18% compared to 9% at the four-year-university level. Students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD also now attend graduate school programs to obtain Ph.D.’s, law degrees and medical degrees.
Two-year or Four-Year Program?
When considering college it is wise to consider whether a two or four-year program works best. There are many small well-qualified four-year programs that may serve the learning needs of students with LD and or ADHD, as well, if not better, that the community college. Knowing which will work best for y our son or daughter may require careful review with a college placement coach or school counselor. Some factors to consider are listed below:
Community colleges often focus on smaller class size providing remedial classes when it seems necessary. Two-year programs offer faster completion with an associate’s degree that may prevent dropout and that offers earlier employment opportunities. Community colleges also offer certificate programs that can be complete in even less time. Community colleges offer a wider range of skill-orientated vocational courses. The tuition is usually significantly cheaper at a community college and courses from the community college may procure acceptance into a four-year program at a state university. In Virginia for example, students with a grade point average above 2.5 are automatically eligible for a four-year-program at a state university. All of their classes may not transfer but this is an excellent was to allow a student to “try out” the college experience at the level of lower tuition before committing to an expensive four-year academic program.
Community college, however, may not be the best option for some students. Recall the case example of Bill. He was required to take remedial class in his community college. He could not move on until he passed the Basic English class. Unfortunately his cognitive potential was significantly above the content of the material presented in class. He could not get motivated to produce the required written work and the college did not look at his underlying need for a better program that included accommodations and more advanced thought. Students who attend community colleges often live at home. This is a good support network but it can also limit the development of the student’s sense of self-efficacy and identity when parents remain overly involved in the student’s class work It also means the student will not transition with his peers to become a freshman in a four-year program. So many of the basic, long-lasting network of friends that a college student will make begin as they enter dorm and college life on campus away from home. These and other factors need to be considered when selecting a path to college.
Remedial courses or follow general program of studies?
The student with LD and/or ADHD often has struggled with many classes in high school. Many suggest that remedial courses are needed if any college success is to be achieved. On the other hand, this begins college right where high school left off….problem classes that are often seen as very unsatisfactory thus lowering self-esteem. Students do not need to begin with an overly rigorous course load but they can adjust schedules and classes to fit personality and learning style, and career goal to facilitate what may be better adjustment by selecting beginning courses in their areas of primary interest. They can now also adjust class schedules so that they can attend classes perhaps two days a week providing time for study and support from specialists in the Disability Support services. Troiano, Liefeld, & Tractenberg (2010) found that students with learning disabilities who consistently accessed this academic support were successful. Thus helping a student find courses of prime interest with support may affect more positive adjustment than forced participation in remedial classes. If those classes remain a necessity, once the student has adjusted to college life and once they see the need for final completion of a degree s/he may be more likely to persevere even though the course itself is not going to be on the “favorite” list. When remedial courses are a requirement it will also be important to find a course that is clearly linked to the student’s area of interest to provide motivation to continue with post-secondary options.
Parents seeking diagnosis just for accommodations.
The John William Pope Center for Higher Education (2010) report “Accommodating College Students with Learning Disabilities: ADD, ADHD and Dyslexia,” identifies concerns that parents may seek diagnosis of learning disabilities and/or ADHD solely for the purpose of receiving accommodations on gateway tests such as the ACT or SATs. In general this is not the time to seek such documentation. Most students will have been identified if they attended public schools. Universities require documentation of need and some indication that the accommodations requested been successful in the past. While the Pope Center report seems to imply that professionals will comply with requests for such diagnoses to assess simply to provide accommodations on gateway tests is not an ethical use of a professional’s time.
SAT & SAT
It is important to sign-up early to take the ACT or SAT’s. These tests benchmark a student’s current achievement in areas relevant to college success. These tests are often referred to as gateway tests. Doing well on the tests can open many university programs; doing poorly limits opportunity. For students with LD and/or ADHD these tests can be especially anxiety producing. Students with LD and/or ADHD can request accommodations when taking the ACT or the SAT. It is very important to follow the guidelines provided by the test companies when requesting the accommodations. In general assessment of current functioning must be provided. A student who was first assessed and placed in special education due to a learning disability, for example, in the second grade with no subsequent testing is not likely to be approved for accommodations on the SAT or ACT tests. Even if the student has had an IEP in place for 10 years prior to the request for accommodations the student’s file does not contain the information needed to fully document current impact on education. Thus if your child’s school suggests a comprehensive full evaluation during the high school years it is wise to agree with such an assessment to assure the documentation needed to request accommodations is current. As a parent you can also request such an evaluation. You school system may not comply with this request. If you wait until the senior or junior year to make such a request they are very likely to deny the request since the assessment would most likely not be a significant tool in education planning. Graduation is about to occur.
When you review the documentation required by the ACT and SAT testing models you will see that specific tests are required. You will also see that qualifications of the person who does the assessment are critical. The nature of the recommendations of the written report, following the assessment, is also critical. In general you will need a measure of current overall cognitive, or intellectual, potential; assessment of current academic achievement; and any further test scores that add to the understanding of the disability for which accommodations are requested. The professional who does the assessment must be qualified to do this type of testing and must be licensed by the state in which you live. The report must clearly identify the disability, provide a diagnosis, and clearly state how the disability negatively impacts current academic achievement. Recommendations for accommodations must directly relate to the disability and to the impact lack of the accommodation could have on the final test score. For example, if your high school student has a visual-motor processing weakness that significantly impacts reading fluency or speed it would be reasonable to request extended time on the test, with reference to a specific time frame such as time and one-half. Based on a fluency problem with reading it would not be reasonable to request frequent breaks during testing unless there is some other compelling reason beyond reading fluency. Accommodations requested must also be reasonable for the company providing the gateway tests. For example, for a student with ADHD it would not be reasonable to suggest that the number of choices for a question be limited to two when the test is normed on a test that has four choices. The norming process for the testing companies is very expensive and requires years to accomplish. To ask that the test be revalidated for one student or that it essentially be transformed into a true/false format with 50/50 probability of success is not reasonable.
Links to the ACT and SAT accommodations pages are provided below. Read them carefully before beginning to gather documentation. If you seek outside assessment to document the disability make certain the professional understands the requirements of the agency and the need to document current negative impact on academic success.
Data clearly shows that students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD are significantly more likely to drop out of high school before receiving a diploma. A 1998 study by OSEP reported that 31% of students with disabilities received a high school diploma. Disability categories were not broken down. The State of Indiana looked at dropout data and found an overall dropout rate in 1998 of 12% but a 50% dropout rate for students with learning disabilities. This means that many students with LD and/or ADHD who wish to move on to a college level education will need to either return to school or to gain the high school credential by taking the GED. The GED is a rigorous test that is normed such that only approximately 65 % of current high school seniors would be expected to pass. Most colleges will accept the GED as evidence of completion of high school. Acceptance of the GED does not by pass the need to take the ACT or SAT however.
It is important to note that the GED also offers accommodations to students with LD and/or ADHD who seek to take the GED. It is important to ask the co-coordinators of your local GED program for information on how to apply for accommodations when taking the GED. You can also find information and the needed forms to request accommodations at: http://www.acces.nysed.gov/ged/accomodations.html
For more on dropout statistics: http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10166 Understanding Dropouts: Statistics, Strategies, & High Stakes Testing
For more on college applications for students with GED's. http://www.acces.nysed.gov/ged/college_admiss.html -
Selecting a University
Once the decision has been made to seek a university education it is important to consider what type of program is best suited to a student's interests and learning needs. Most universities will have a disabilities support program. Some programs are stronger than others. The disability support program alone should not be the primary deciding factor in college choice. It is very important to make certain he university has an academic program a student finds of interest or that relates to perceived career choice. The Fiske Guide to Colleges (2013) nicely breaks down colleges by state, cost, and primary discipline areas of study. It also gives average scores for students applying to the universities. These scores provide a rough estimate of criteria needed for admission to a specific university. Acceptance rates are also given as well as a description of college life at that university. This Fiske Guide also has a list of universities that may be more responsive to the needs of students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD.
Another source of good information about universities with good programs for students with LD and/or ADHD is the Peterson's Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
It is best to select three or four universities that seem to be good matches. Arrange a college visit to those campuses.
A good source to help keep track of the college application process is smartaboutcollege.org.
Disability Support Services on campus:
It is important to register with disability support services before classes begin. To do this go to the university's disability support page. It is important to see what documentation they will require. In most cases documentation provided for the SAT/ACT accommodations has the needed information. Documentation needs to be current, meaning, in general reflective of adolescent (adult) cognitive functioning with academic achievement scores being current. It is important to document that the learning disability and/or ADHD currently negatively impacts the student's ability to achieve academically. It is also important to show how the disability specifically impacts academic performance at the college level. Documentation must also be provided by a professional qualified to make diagnosis.
Students with documented learning disabilities and/or ADHD sometimes hesitate to register with disability support services. They may be concerned that others will know about their disability. Some also think it will be acceptable to tell the professor before a test or assignment due date that they have a disability and need extended time or other accommodations. Both of these responses work against ultimate academic success. Other students on campus are not made aware of accommodated classroom needs unless the student reveals his or her need for accommodations to classmates. If a student asks for accommodations without being registered with disability support services professors for the most part will not comply. This is because the federal law and the policy of the university clearly state that a disability must be documented. If the professor provides accommodations to one student who is not registered but who nonetheless requests extended time, for example, the professor to be fair should provide that accommodation to any student in the class who requests extended time.
Ten things to know from The George Washington University Disability support Services Website.
Accommodations provided at the university level include: extended time on tests, note takers, audio textbooks, private room testing, extended time on assignments when needed, support staff to help a student monitor a schedule, and coaching. Counseling services are also available on campus to help students adjust to the transition to university life.
Benefiting from Disability Support Services provided at the post-secondary level.
Once registered students should access the services available. Staff members at disability support services are trained to know how to help students organize time and work. Many centers also provide a number of tutoring sessions free of cost for students with disabilities. Staff can also help advocate for students if there is a specific conflict with a professor who may not understand why s/he needs to provide accommodations. Some programs also provide support groups for students. This is an excellent way to make new friends on campus and to learn how others are navigating course work at the university. Troianao, Liefeld, & Trachenteberg (2010) found that students who accessed supports provided by the disability support centers "were more likely to have higher grades and to graduate college than those who did not." Accessing support is important!
It is important to determine first what courses are required for your first year of study. A good approach for many students is to determine if classes can be set on two or three days a week so that there is ample time to study on the other days of the week. It is also a good idea to allow at least one hour between classes so that there is time to take a break and organize needed notes or work before the next class begins. At the university level it is also often possible to take classes at the time of day that best meets the student's peak energy level. Unlike in high school at the university level the 8:00 AM course is not a necessity. The same class may be taught at noon or even at 5:00 PM. Early class selection may be needed to get into the more popular times. Even if it appears a class is full at the desired time it is wise to sign up for a waitlist in the class if one exists. Often students drop or do not appear at the first week of classes and seats will open up.
When selecting classes also take time to map out the planned classes using a campus map. Make certain it is possible to arrive at the next class in time without a rush to transition from one side of a large campus to another or from one of the university's campus to another.
It is also important to remember that is not necessary to take all "heavy-load" classes the first semester. To break the pressure of the demands of a rigorous schedule it is possible to take a physical education course such as Yoga or an art of music course. By modulating the class load a student may be better able to handle the added stress of the transition from home to the college campus.
It is also wise to consider taking a class that is of high interest as well. For example, if a student is interested in graphic design but the college suggested course plan does not contain a class in graphic design the first semester it may be wise to find one that does not have prerequisites that can be added to the student's schedule.
Other relevant factors to consider in class selection: (1) Does the professor use PowerPoint slide presentations that can be downloaded from the Internet to help organize class notes? (2) Does the professor use an Internet platform such as Blackboard? Professors who use this format often provide students with access to course materials in a timely basis up on Blackboard. This can be very helpful for the student who often misplaces notes, assignment due dates, or exam dates. Blackboard also provide for assignment submission. Once an assignment is complete it can be uploaded to the professor's Blackboard course site thus eliminating possible loss of an assignment during a hectic day. Blackboard also tells exactly when an assignment was turned in and it allows the professors to provide feedback to the student about what is great about or missing from an assignment. (3) If the professor does not have materials on Blackboard is there a course pack provided by the professor that summarizes information presented in class; (4) Does the professor use a textbook or do you have to remember content from lecture? and (5) What types of exams does the professor use? Multiple choice with a scantron score sheet? Online? Essay exams? Does this method match your learning style? (6) Is there a teaching assistant in the class who may be able to help clarify course content? (7) Is the class one that uses strictly lecture format or does the professor use interactive methods such as group projects, interactive clickers in class, or engaging individual assignments? Most often the information about these and other teaching strategies will be provided on the professors syllabus.
Self-advocacy and the professors.
Students at the post-secondary level need to understand their disability so that they can explain to professors what type of accommodations or adaptations they might need throughout the semester. Once in college parents will not be able to communicate with professors to see how a student is doing or to make certain the student has requested, and used, needed accommodations. In high school, as the transition plan progressed, hopefully students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD are helped to develop self-advocacy skills that they will need to carry them through college and beyond.
Student should introduce themselves to the professors. It also is an excellent idea to visit the professor during the assigned office hours. Professors are often more than willing to clarify course content or to discuss new course related ideas with students during office hours. Students can also email professors when there is confusion about course content or information provided in a course syllabus. These are things that should be started early in the semester. Dropping by a professors office during the last week of classes to request extended time for assignments not completed during the semester most often will not work!
If the professor uses Blackboard or a similar platform to post course materials it may also be possible to access other students in the class with the class roster. Students can also access help from other students in the class using this email method. This is often a great approach during a last minute panic!
Since classes change each semester it is important to work with the disability support specialist each semester so that professors are made aware of needed accommodations.
College life offers a wide set of opportunities. There are often internships available, service learning projects where a student can interact with a surrounding community to volunteer time. These are very worthwhile. There is also an active social life at the university level. Sororities and fraternities also vie for members at the post secondary level. Time management becomes very important! A student with LD and/or ADHD should work with the disability support specialist to create an organized, reasonable agenda to help meet both educational and social needs.
National Center on Learning disabilities --http://www.ncld.org/adults-learning-disabilities/post-high-school
Learning Disabilities Association of America - http://www.ldanatl.org/aboutld/adults/post_secondary/college.asp
LDOnline - http://www.ldonline.org/cse/?cx=018213866340234083221%3Ahh6qnz0cy2u&cof=FORID%3A10%3BNB%3A1&ie=UTF-8&q=college+programs+for+students+with+learning+disabilities
ADHD and the college student- http://www.addvance.com/help/young_adults/stress.html
CHADD.org- for information about ADHD and college. You will need to use their search engine.
Survival Guide for College Students with ADHD or LD, Nadeau, 2006, Magination Press.
College Success for Students with Learning Disabilities, Simpson & Spencer, 2009, Prufrock Press.
Upcoming newsletters will focus on:
Learning how to understand assessment data provided by the schools or private sources
Writing excellent individual individualized education plans
Discipline for students with disabilities and the manifest determination review
Special education or a 504 plan? The school says they might be willing to help under 504. Is that OK?