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Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Prepare for College

Parents, counselors, teachers and students with Learning Disabilities (LD) may use this list as a reminder of helpful skills and necessary steps to take as a high school student with a learning disability moves toward college.

1. Make sure psychological testing is up-to-date. Most colleges and universities require this testing be no more than three years old.

2. Obtain all special testing records before high school graduation. Some school systems destroy these records upon the student's graduation. Colleges, as well as vocational rehabilitation offices, request these records to assist in providing special services to students.

3. Make sure the student's knowledge of study skills is adequate. In addition to high school assistance, consider special study skills classes/programs offered at community colleges, private agencies, or individual tutoring.

4. Consult with the high school to get a good understanding of how much support or special help the student is receiving. It is important to determine realistically whether minimal LD support services or an extensive LD program at the college level will be needed.

5. Help students to increase their independent living skills. Help them learn to manage their own checking accounts, do their own laundry, cleaning, some cooking, etc.

6. Encourage part-time jobs or volunteer positions. These are helpful to improve socialization skills as well as to give a better understanding of work situations and expectations and responsibility.

7. Make sure students have a good understanding of their particular learning disabilities. They should know and be able to articulate their strengths and weaknesses as well as what compensating techniques and accommodations work best for them.

8. Help students understand how their disabilities are connected to social experiences with peers, families, and employers. A visual or auditory discrimination deficit, and/or an attention deficit disorder frequently lead to missed cues and inappropriate timing in conversation.

9. Encourage students to be their own advocates. A good first step is to encourage them to discuss their learning disabilities and needed accommodations, if any, with their regular high school instructors.

10. Learn about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law indicates what types of accommodations must be provided and/or allowed at post secondary institutions if a student requests them. The responsibility is on the individual to initiate the provision of services and accommodations (unlike the requirements of I.D.E.A., which puts the responsibility on elementary, and secondary schools).

11. Get information on special exam arrangements for SAT and/or ACT. Options include extended time, readers or cassettes.

12. Try to visit a college before making a definite choice and consider their locations. 

13. Make sure the student has had visual and hearing evaluations recently. Only a qualified specialist should administer such evaluations.

14. Encourage students to have their own memberships in LD organizations. Newsletters for LDA, Orton Dyslexia Society, among others, can help keep them informed about new resources and special programs.

15. Make sure it is the student's choice to attend college. The most successful LD college students are those who have high motivation and a good understanding of their particular strengths and weaknesses. They understand that it may be harder and take more time to manage college level work. They are committed to spend that extra time studying, and to request and use appropriate accommodations when needed.

Adapted from: Carol Sullivan, counselor for LD students, Northern Virginia Community College, Annadale, Virginia; and the Staff of HEATH Resource Center, One DuPont Circle, NW, Washington, DC 20036.