Self-Advocacy: Never Too Early to Start
A growing population of students attending college are those with learning disabilities. Self-advocacy is essential for students with learning disabilities entering college. While parents, teachers, case managers and others have typically provided the necessary support and coordination of services throughout the K-12 years, students with learning disabilities must now prepare to self advocate. Students preparing for college need to consider services for their learning disability on campus and how to approach what is available. This requires initiative and follow through as young adults.
While self-advocacy is a skill set that is addressed and enriched in the college setting of a disability support program, it is key to contemplate the importance of the launch of solid self-advocacy skills as early as possible in a student’s academic career. As soon as a student is diagnosed with a learning disability, the process of self-advocacy needs to begin.
During elementary school, awareness of the disability is important. Explaining the disability, answering questions the student has, asking them what they feel is helpful or not helpful, including them in goal planning for their education are strategies to consider in accordance with their individual circumstances. This should continue in middle school, with students attending IEP meetings and collaborating with key players in planning the IEP/504. By now, students should be included in meetings, or at least portions of meetings, to identify goals, identify challenges and areas of strength, and generally be a part of the team in developing the academic plan. At the high school level, college planning, course selection, and refining the most helpful aspects of support are key. It is helpful when case managers are familiar with services and accommodations in college settings so that they can assist the student in knowing what is going to be available after high school. Consider shaping and identifying high school accommodations so that by senior year they reflect a similar set of accommodations that would be available in college. This can also assist with selecting the appropriate college. College match becomes very important for every student and particularly for those with learning disabilities. This knowledge and awareness, as well as collaboration throughout the K-12 years, is essential for a successful college transition. #
Mary Hebert, PhD, Counselor, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Regional Center for Learning Disabilities