Developing Self Knowledge
Successful college students with learning disabilities, college advisors, as well as campus disability support service staff agree that developing knowledge about one's self--the nature of one's learning disabilities as well as one's personal and academic strengths and weaknesses--is vital in getting ready for college.
Students need to become familiar with how they learn best. Many successful students with learning disabilities acquire compensatory learning strategies to help them use the knowledge they have accumulated, to plan, complete and evaluate projects, and to take an active role in shaping their environments. They need to learn how to apply strategies flexibly, and how to modify or create strategies fluently to fit new learning situations. For example, compensatory learning strategies may include:
All students learn from experience. Those with learning disabilities need to exercise their judgment, make mistakes, self-identify them, and correct them. Learning new information in a new setting, such as a college classroom or dormitory, can be frustrating. Set-backs are an inevitable part of the learning process, but can impair self-esteem, which is essential to taking responsibility for one's life. Self-esteem is built and rebuilt one day at a time. Students need explicit strategies to monitor and restore their self-esteem.
Some students have difficulty understanding or making themselves understood by their peers, families, and instructors. For example, some learning disabilities may affect timing in conversations, or decisions about when to study and when to socialize. Students need to really think about how motivated they are. They should ask themselves these questions:
Become familiar with one's own learning disability. Since the professional documentation of the learning disability is the vehicle for understanding one's strengths and weaknesses, it is essential that each student has a full and frank discussion about that documentation with his or her parents as well as the psychologist or other expert who assessed the student. Students may want to ask questions such as:
Learn to be "self-advocates" while still in high school! Self-advocates are people who can speak up in logical, clear and positive language to communicate about their needs. Self-advocates take responsibility for themselves. To be a self-advocate, each student must learn to understand his or her particular type of learning disability, and the resultant academic strengths and weaknesses. They must be aware of their own learning styles. Most importantly, high school students with learning disabilities need to become comfortable with describing to others both their disability and their academic-related needs. At the college level, the student will hold the major responsibility for self-identification and advocacy.
Practice self-advocacy while still in high school. Many students with learning disabilities develop self-advocacy skills through participating in the discussion to determine the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and/or the Individualized Transition Plan (ITP). Armed with knowledge about learning strengths and weaknesses, the student can be a valued member of the planning team.
Develop strengths and learn about areas of interest. Students with learning disabilities, as do others, often participate in sports, music, or social activities after school. Others try working in a variety of jobs or community volunteer projects. Activities in which a student can excel can help to build the self-esteem necessary to succeed in other areas.
In order to make themselves more attractive candidates when applying to colleges, students should consider the following:
Take courses in high school that will help prepare for college. If appropriate, take foreign language credits and computer training while still in high school.
Consider internships, or part-time jobs, or volunteer community service that will develop necessary skills.
Consider enrolling in a summer pre-college program specifically designed for students with learning disabilities in either the summer before or after the high school senior year. Such short-term experiences (most programs are designed to last anywhere from one week to one month) have been shown to be incredibly helpful in giving students a feel for what college or university life will be like.
Contact the local Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency and investigate eligibility requirements. VR agencies may offer a variety of services to eligible students with learning disabilities, including vocational assessment, tuition assistance, or testing services.
Explore sources of financing the college education. Most families need financial assistance to pay the costs of attending college.
Students may want to practice talking to their high school teachers and administrators about their academic strengths and weaknesses and the ways in which they compensate for their learning disabilities.
Join one of the national organizations which provide support not only to students with learning disabilities, but also to parents and professionals, as well. Participation in the activities of such organizations is an excellent way to build confidence, to increase disability awareness and disability-related knowledge, and to get information about special programs and resources.From: "Getting Ready for College: Advising High School Students with Learning Disabilities", prepared under Cooperative Agreement No. H930C30002-94, awarded to the American Council on Education by the U.S. Department of Education.