Being a student with a learning disability, or LD as they’re routinely called, once carried a certain stigma—but no more.
Science reported earlier this year that up to 10 percent of the population has some learning disability. Locally, Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 Plans abound, mandating classroom and testing accommodations for students shown to need them. In fact, 1 in 6 New Trier high school juniors taking the 2012 ACT college entrance exam got special accommodations, for which an IEP or 504 is required. Highland Park, Deerfield and Lake Forest high schools reported nearly 1 in 5 students getting some kind of accommodation for the ACT.
If your child has an IEP in place, how do you help them navigate the high school years and transition to college successfully?
“Needs are evolving,” said school psychologist Dr. Tonya Gall of Skokie-based PRS, Inc., who has worked with most high schools in the area.
Annual IEP meetings, classroom performance, diagnostic information and monitoring student progress clarify a student’s changing needs. “Parents serve as their child’s best advocate and can drive that conversation,” she says. “Sometimes a tweak to accommodations doesn’t require a formal meeting.”
For students, though, high school is the time to learn how to start advocating for themselves, says Julie Smith, transition specialist at Glenbrook South High School.
“These years are when students start to identify what accommodations they use and what’s effective for them,” Smith says. “The number one mistake I see is that parents don’t step back and let their kids make mistakes where it’s safe. As hard as it may be, parents have to let go a little and allow their children to experience independence in their decision-making—before college.”
The Big Transition
“High school is a very different game” than college, Dr. Gall says.
Federal laws dictate what educational supports high schools must provide IEP students. In college, the Americans with Disabilities Act is the filter through which aid is provided.
“A lot of services don’t continue,” Smith says.
Aside from talking with your high school’s special education counselor, researching schools is an ideal way to identify college options for LD kids. Websites like College Academic Support provide direct links to schools with robust programs. Visit each school’s site, too, and determine ease of finding information online and accessing guidelines for getting services.
It’s critical to contact a school’s office of student disabilities to learn when they need information about your applicant. According to Smith, some colleges may require updated testing, but she recommends first sending whatever existing paperwork you have. If the school wants extra information, they’ll let you know.
CHOICES Fair For College-Bound LD Students
A consortium of North Shore high schools participate in the CHOICES Fair, an event that brings together service providers representing a range of Midwestern colleges, including University of Illinois, Purdue and Depaul University.
“We want kids to know which schools can meet their needs,” says Smith, who is presenting at this year’s CHOICES Fair. “LD students and their parents need to look at the college decision differently. If you’re going to make a $50,000 per year investment, you want to get it right.”