Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to plan for college when you have a learning disability

From U.S. News & World Report:

Most of the 3 percent or so of teens who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities struggle so much in high school that they give up on hopes of college, setting back their job and career prospects, according to statistics compiled by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

But there are reasons for hope for anyone with attention deficit disorder, dyslexia or other common learning challenges. College admissions officers and learning disability counselors recommend these steps:

Start preparing early: Many students, parents and high school officials think struggling students should be shifted to easier classes. But starting freshman year, anyone hoping for college should try to stick with college prep classes, says Dianne Rogers, director of learning differences at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa.

"Avoid the temptation to retreat to lower track classes," she says. College courses are hard. Students who have been waived from high school algebra and other tough courses probably don't have the knowledge or skills to be admitted to four-year colleges. Those who skip rigorous classes in high school could have to spend a couple of years in remedial courses in community college, she says.

Experiment with technology: From simple spell check and calendar software programs to dictation software, screen readers and high-tech recording pens, there's a growing abundance of tools to help students retain information and finish homework on time, says Rogers.

Be creative: Students who can't succeed in some required courses can seek substitutes. For example, those whose learning disability makes it hard to keep up in foreign language classes could switch to something like American Sign Language, says Nancy Singer, assistant director for admissions and recruitment for the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center at the University of Arizona.

Put the student in charge: High schools develop special learning plans for students with documented disabilities, but colleges don't typically provide any special help unless students — not parents — know exactly what they need and know how to ask for it. "Students have to be ready to have an adult conversation about what they need," such as note takers or special software, says Jane Daigneault, coordinator of disability services at Clark University in Worcester, Ma.

Research college options: Be sure the college fits the student's learning style. Singer recommends "The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder" ($29.99) and "Preparing Students With Disabilities for College Success" (Paul H. Brookes, $34.95).