College should, and can, be a place where all types of students can learn, grow, and thrive – including students with identified learning disabilities and/or learning differences.  Making the transition from home and high school academics to college and independence is a complex transition, and there are some key things that students with learning disabilities (and their families) should consider as they look down the road to post-secondary education.

The first thing to consider is the difference between the way in which learning disabilities are accommodated at the high school level versus the way they are addressed at the collegiate level.  

In high school a host of adults (teachers, special educators, parents, tutors, etc) are tasked with continuously monitoring and evaluating student success.  It is the job of the adults to recognize when a student is struggling, the job of the adults to create and implement interventions and support plans, and the job of the adults to complete ongoing progress monitoring.  It is even incumbent on the high school to go as far as modifying the curriculum and/or outcome expectations, in order to meet every individual need of every student. This entire process is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In college, this paradigm is flipped.  No longer are there a host of professionals actively monitoring progress, creating interventions, or modifying learning objectives or assessment tools in order to accommodate diverse learners.  In college, even colleges specifically designed to serve the needs of students with learning disabilities, it is incumbent on the student to be able to direct their learning process and advocate for support when necessary.  The educational process is no longer governed by IDEA, but rather by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

At Mansfield Hall, we can help smooth the transition from the high school to the college paradigm, by taking the time to explicitly teach students how to use disability resources on their college campus, how to navigate the process of receiving and utilizing accommodations, how to build college-level study skills, and how to effectively advocate for their needs on a college campus.

The second thing to consider when evaluating colleges for students with learning disabilities is that there are some very well-known LD colleges that do an excellent job at accommodating diverse learners – within the paradigm of a typical college setting.

Built directly into the curriculum, multimodal teaching strategies and the effective utilization of a universal design for learning allows colleges for students with learning disabilities to help students more-easily navigate the academic curriculum.  For students with an identified learning disability – especially language-based learning disabilities – these approaches can be very helpful. Colleges designed for students with learning disabilities often offer easy access to tutoring, coaching, or executive function skill development as a part of first-year courses, and these can be critical skill-building exercises for students with learning disabilities.

While this approach can be effective for many students, supports and services are still generally offered within a traditional college paradigm, whereby the student must:

  • -independently and accurately identify when they need help (in any domain)
  • -independently and effectively advocate for support
  • -be able to independently and effectively apply and utilize the support which is provided.  

In fact, each of these three steps are a complex skill set unto themselves, which require a relatively high level of mastery in self-evaluation and self-assessment, a well-developed capacity for self-advocacy, and strong executive functioning skills for effective follow-through.  

For students who have the ability to regularly and accurately apply the above skills in all domains (academics, socially, independent living, personal health, finance, etc), starting their post-secondary education in a college for students with learning disabilities may be an appropriate next step.  

For students for whom one or more of the above critical skills is still an area of growth (in any domain) it may be important to take some additional time to build that key and critical skill set before making the move to a college for students with learning disabilities.  The above skill set can be taught, learned, practiced, and mastered – but it is critical that students are able to do all of the above (across all domains) before they are ready to navigate college (even a college for students with learning disabilities) independently.

The third thing to consider is that while academics are an important aspect of college, there is more than academics to consider when making the transition to college.

Academics do matter.  Going to class, studying, completing assignments, etc, are all critical elements of successful college engagement – but that is only one small portion of a student’s college experience.  Many students choose to explore colleges for students with learning disabilities because of the excellent academic supports and services which are embedded in the college curriculum. Students and their families will also be well-served to consider a student’s capacity for navigating the social, independent living, and executive functioning demands of college, as well as the academic domains, as these are each equally-critical elements of making a successful transition to college.  

While colleges for students with learning differences often do an excellent job at providing academic supports and services, students may also need explicit and direct support in building their capacity for navigating the social nuances of college, or need additional support or education in the areas of independent living skills.  Having clear and honest conversations about a student’s full range of needs – including but also beyond academics – can help students and families evaluate if making the move to a college for students with learning differences is the best next step in a student’s academic career and social development.

If, upon reflection, a student has some lagging skills or skill gaps in areas of academics, pro-social development, and/or independent living skills, then exploring a holistic support network such as Mansfield Hall, which can concurrently address growth and development in multiple domains, may be a critical first step in the transition to college and independence.

For more information about how Mansfield Hall can work with students who may be considering a college for students with learning disabilities and/or learning differences, please get in touch with us today.