One of Powwow’s most popular blogs is, “Your Child Can Succeed in College Despite Losing IEP.” The two big takeaways of the piece were…

  1. Colleges do not utilize IEPs to address learning disabilities, but instead offer various levels of “accommodations.” Understanding that accommodations are not standard across all colleges. It’s important to make accommodation level and offerings a high-priority criterion during the college search phase to ensure a good fit. 
  2. College-bound children need to become their own advocates in order not to flounder and flunk out in their first year. While they’ve been living with an IEP for years, they may take for granted that teachers and parents are the ones responsible for enforcing it. 

This blog will focus on the latter. College may be one of the biggest investments you and your child make. The last thing anyone wants is the experience to go south in the first semester due to improperly navigating accommodations. 

It will come as no surprise that parents often dominate the IEP process throughout K-12. It only makes sense as the student is a minor, and some IEPs start as early as kindergarten (even earlier if you count early intervention programs!) I’m routinely hearing parents say how they are “preparing for battle” as they head into an IEP annual review. Parents are negotiating with the school district the best schedule modification, placements, environments, transportation, testing… the list goes on. Plenty of families even hire outside legal counsel and get medical opinions if they aren’t getting the desired services for their child or if the agreed-upon IEP isn’t being followed. 

And let’s not gloss over the teachers who receive training and classroom support to help ensure students meet the goals set within their IEP. If the child is to sit at the front of the class, the teacher has their name on a desk to ensure that happens. If a child is to be pulled out for reading support, the student is reminded when to break away from class. Largely, the student just needs to show up and pay attention. They are not responsible for orchestrating their meticulously crafted day. 

So when the child turns 18 and is off to college, it’s a huge adjustment that their parent is no longer their mouthpiece and teachers their conductor.  The class sizes in college vs high school are materially larger, meaning education is much more scaled vs individualized. Couple that with the fact that college professors aren’t nearly as well-versed teaching students with learning disabilities, because they don’t have to be. Understand that any agreed-upon accommodation can be easily overlooked if your child isn’t monitoring the situation and speaking up. If they should be sitting at the front of the class, they need to label their own desk so to speak. 

How should a parent go about teaching kids to be their own advocates in college? 

Here are some strategies to help your kids foster their independence and self-advocacy skills:

  1. Start early: Prior to college, begin teaching your kids about their IEP and rights as early as possible. Help them understand the purpose of the IEP and how it supports their educational needs.

  2. Promote self-confidence: Instill a sense of confidence in your kids by highlighting their strengths, celebrating their achievements, and encouraging them to take ownership of their educational journey. Whenever I speak to a child therapist or psychologist on the topic of learning disabilities, their focus is to promote self-confidence so the student wants to learn and be involved in the process. 

  3. Develop organization and time management skills: Help your kids develop effective organizational and time management skills, which are crucial for success in college. Encourage them to use planners, calendars, or digital tools to stay organized and manage their assignments and deadlines.

  4. Foster self-awareness: Encourage your kids to develop a clear understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. Help them identify the accommodations and support they need to succeed academically. I find that kids are provided services almost solely based on other people’s observations, and not their own.

  5. Teach self-advocacy skills: Have them communicate their needs themselves. This includes skills such as assertiveness, problem-solving, and negotiation. Role-play various scenarios to practice these skills if needed. Could they mess it up? Sure! Will it be uncomfortable? You bet! But it’s better for it to happen now while you can intervene vs when they’re at college. Your child’s ability to communicate openly with their professors, disability support staff, and other relevant individuals on campus may be the difference between straight As to flunking out. If they have trouble doing so, ensure they know when and how to ask for help.

  6. Understand the college’s disability support services: Since IEPs are out the window, make sure to familiarize yourself with the disability support services offered by the college they plan to attend. How do services and goals on the IEP map over to college accommodations? Understand the correct lingo to use, documentation requirements, and procedures for requesting accommodations. Once it’s understood, be sure to loop your child in, and give them a seat at the table.

  7. Encourage self-reflection: They may start off on the right foot, but teach your kids to periodically reflect on their own progress so they can request adjustments to their IEP/accommodations or support services. If possible, find resources or benchmarks to help evaluate and identify areas of improvement so they can communicate their needs effectively.

  8. Encourage involvement in support networks: Encourage your kids to join disability support groups or clubs on campus where they can connect with peers who may have similar experiences. These networks can provide valuable support and advice.

Remember, the transition to college can be challenging, but with proper guidance and support, your kids can become effective self-advocates and successfully navigate their educational experience.