Education Week reported this week that a new poll shows that there are still some misconceptions about students with learning disabilities.
Just over half of those surveyed — 51 percent 00 said that they agree strongly or somewhat with the statement “sometimes learning disabilities are really just the result of laziness,” and 80 percent linked learning disabilities with intellectual disabilities.
However, the results indicated that there is some growing awareness about learning disabilities. Many were able to correctly identify conditions such as dyslexia as learning disabilities, and 80 percent said they believe the statement “people with learning disabilities are just as smart as you and me” to be generally accurate.
The takeaway for students with learning disabilities is that there still are misconceptions about their condition. Therefore, finding a college that is knowledgeable and sensitive to their particular learning needs is tantamount to success for these students.
If you have a learning disability or other disability, here are some things to consider:
Students with learning or other disabilities benefit greatly from the support of family and friends. College can be a stressful time with a lot of significant changes. It can be challenging for any student to stay focused and on track during this time. Therefore, students with additional needs may want to consider a college that is closer to home or close to a network of family and friends. Online programs are also great options, since they offer a program with the least amount of transition.
Choosing a college across the country can leave the student feeling lonely and homesick, and without the support needed to navigate difficult new demands and challenges.
Contact the college’s disability support office
Find out what services are offered for students with disabilities, and particularly for your own special needs. There are a number of questions you should ask to determine how accommodating the department will be for your needs:
Does the director of the program have special training for learning disabilities or, specifically, for your disability?
How many students does the office serve? How many of those students share your disability?
How many specialists work with the program? How many are available for ongoing counseling and support?
Are there advisers who can offer course-selection advice that is tailored to students with learning disabilities?
Are there support groups for students with your disability on campus? Does the office maintain a list of professionals that work in the community?
Does the office offer specialty tutoring or classes for students with learning disabilities?
Is there a physician at the student health center that can prescribe medication (if needed) for your particular disability (such as medication for ADHD, etc.)?
What are the retention and graduation rates for students with learning disabilities?
How is it determined whether students receive accommodations?
What accommodations are offered?
Some typical accommodations can include (depending on disability):
Reduced course load
Allowances for taking exams (changing the format, allowing for more time, allowing for the use of software, etc.)
Allowances for special tools in the classroom (laptops, etc.)
Training and support
Attend orientations and open houses
There is no better way to get to know a college than to visit it yourself and to talk to the professors, the support staff, and the students who are already attending. Talk to professors teaching in a department that you may choose for your major, and ask them about the kinds of accommodations they allow for students with learning disabilities. You will be able to get a real sense for the type of support the college offers and whether there is an environment of understanding.
Also, talk to other students with learning disabilities. Ask them what kind of accommodations they receive, and how well they feel that their needs are being met by the staff and faculty. Talk to them about their feelings about how well school officials seem to understand their needs. Also, discuss practical issues like the ready availability of services, or the red tape that may be involved with requesting accommodations.
Size does matter
A large school with thousands of students can be overwhelming for many students, and even more so with students who have disabilities and are already struggling in some way. A smaller school can offer more support and a more individualized approach. Find out what typical enrollment and class size is like. Getting that personal attention will help make the experience easier, rather than being one student swallowed up in a crowd.
Use the Internet
Research prospective schools online to find out what people are saying. See what kind of reputation the school has, and see how it ranks in surveys and other polls. Online resources can prove invaluable — take full advantage of them.