Learning challenged college students offer advice.

On Thursday, January 6th, 2011, PEN (www.parentseducationnetwork.org)  hosted a discussion with four college students challenged with learning and attention difficulties.  They shared some of their experiences both in high school and college and gave advice to parents along with high school students  challenge with learning and attention difficultues as they prepare for taking the step to college.

 Common themes during the discussion:


1.         College environment is much more accepting of students with learning challenges than high school.

2.         It seems easier in college to build community with others.

3.         In college there seems to be less of a stigma around requesting accommodations.

4.         Professors are more available to students than teachers in high school.

5.         Professors accept who you are.

6.         When you find a professor you like, eg: who uses different media throughout his or her lecture, see if he or she offers other courses you can take.

7.         Note taking is easier if they give out Power Point summaries

8.         College registration process is “horrible”.  Can be hard to get the class you want.  E-mail the professor and ask for his or her help. Use texting – ask you be informed when a class opens up.  Get counselors to help you.

9.         Don’t sign up for classes that won’t work for you. Eg:  if you are not good in the mornings, schedule your classes in the afternoon.  Be sure to schedule classes that relate to your best ability.

10.       College is actually fun:  no longer have to spit out answers

11.       College is more understanding about hitting walls:  it’s expected.

12.       The participants in this discussion said they find they need more sleep in college.  The tests are harder and one participant said that more sleep helps. 

High School:

1.         SAT: 

Be sure to ask for accommodations before taking a SAT.

Be thorough with all documentation and meet all the deadlines

One participant said he was rejected at a college based on the results of his SAT.  As he had great grades, he changed his approach and found schools that looked beyond the SAT.  He is doing well in college.

2.         When you are writing your essay as part of the application for college, disclose your disability. Add stories about it.  Share why you like your disability. Share your strengths as a result of your disability. Put something in that essay that makes you unique.

3.         Teachers are preparing you for college and as a result they seem to be constantly evaluating and judging you.

4.         High school has so much homework, that the students found they didn’t get enough sleep.

5.         High school provided tutors.  They helped us become independent. They helped us learn how to tackle the obstacle ourselves. Again self advocacy was encouraged. Have to learn how to do this in school. Only as a last resort is it appropriate to have parents step in.

6.         The hardest things in school was getting teachers on the same page.

7.         Standardized tests require a lot of preparation.  Only so much tutoring can help.  Very important to learn the tricks about these tests.

 General Keys to being successful in both college and high school. 

1.         Be a proactive self advocate.  

If you are shy, begin by using e-mail to a teacher or professor. Have a friend support you in the process.  Keep self advocating with your professors, even if you are no longer taking his or her classes. Office hours of a professor can be jammed. E-mail in advance for an appointment.

2.         Find a teacher/professor/counselor who will help you define your learning style.

3.         Always go to every meeting with your questions prepared and document the responses. Take all the information you need to make this meeting successful.

4.         Get to know the system of the school or college 

Managing 1st year college away from family and other support 

1.         Take an easier load in 1st year.

2.         Get the accommodations you need.

3.         Make use of Kurzweil, Dragon, BookShare, Win, Inspiration (supports visual thinking techniques) or other assistive technology.

4.         Go into college with an open mind.  Be willing to find out who you are. Be willing to change your course of study in mid-stream. Find courses that you love.  Makes learning so much easier.

5.         Be ready to assume more responsibility for yourself.  You now have to set your own schedule. Get comfortable using a calendar to keep on time.  Put dates from syllabus where deadlines are stated so you have papers in on time.  A couple of the college speakers highly recommended the Mac.  Note taking and calendar are excellent with this system.

6.         Develop a work study system.

7.         It’s important to have your own computer:  can save info there, good for time management and much more. 

Do you feel that having a disability better prepared you for college? 

1.         You know how to handle hitting the wall, you know how to push through the wall because you hit it before in school.

2.         You have learned in school how you learn and what strategies work for you.

3.         You have learned in school how to be an effective self advocate:  need to continue in college.

4.         And, you need to continue to be open about your disability and be organized. Play with your strengths

5.         However, a lot of students are 1st diagnosed in university or college.

 General Comment: 

The speakers encouraged the parents: As soon as you find out that your child has a learning disability, tell them.  In the long run it serves them.