For Parents of Special Needs Students: Raising a Successful College Graduate
Children with special needs have experienced more frustration and academic failure than most other children. Yet, some of them become successful college students who graduate with a specialty in a chosen field.
Sadly, most do not. Only about 57 percent of students with disabilities graduate from high school, and only about 10 to 15 percent of those graduating attend college.
What are some reasons students succeed in college? How can parents help their child be among those who accomplish this challenging undertaking?
Parental expectations are a key factor
Children who are raised with the belief that they have the skills to be successful at the college of their choice, if they desire to pursue a college education, have a great advantage! They prepare all of their lives for the experience of college. All through their school years they make powerful decisions that lay the foundation for college success.
Students who believe they will be successful college students study more, they have higher grades, and they seek the guidance of mentors who can guide them to develop strong skills. They “play full out” in school, taking challenging classes and honing their academic skills.
The type of mentoring children receive from their parents is the genesis of the personal coping beliefs and habits that ensure college success. Parents lay the foundation of academic achievement from the moment their child is born. Parents who mentor and support their child all through their lives to believe in their innate intelligence and skill encourage the kind of decisions good students face every day as they pursue their path through the huge array of facts, procedures, skills and habits that support the ultimate acquisition of academic literacy.
When mentored to know he or she will be successful, a student develops personal attributes that support success. Research by the Frostig Center in Pasadena, California provides some insight into these qualities.
Personal qualities that support academic success
Students who have the following personal qualities are much more likely to thrive in college. You can read more detailed descriptions of the qualities that insure college success here.
• Self-awareness and self-acceptance
• Proactivity as opposed to reactivity
• Skill in setting short and long-range goals
• Use of effective support systems
• Strong emotional coping strategies
Taking specific action increases the likelihood of succeeding in college
Students need to be aware of specific action steps they should take to increase the probability they will be admitted to and graduate from the college of their choice.
Ideally, parents and children should begin to take specific action steps by the time the student reaches 8th grade. For the student, this involves taking the most challenging classes available, while maintaining strong grades and a great attitude toward academics. Completing extra or optional assignments in classes to stretch his or her knowledge, and pursuing activities about which the student is passionate such as sports, artistic, and/or volunteer experiences builds the self-confidence, proactive mindset and time management skills that characterize highly successful students.
Parents should encourage their child to learn from successful adults who are rich sources of information about the nature of their careers, the training they completed, and the strategies they use to be successful. Family friends, teachers, coaches, and neighbors are valuable allies to a student who is eager to learn about the kinds of opportunities available to them as adults.
Students should explore the world of work through paid jobs, internships, and volunteering. They will learn about the working conditions of specific jobs, develop the perseverance needed to commit to a challenging endeavor, and learn valuable interpersonal skills such as cooperation and functioning within an environment that requires meeting high expectations.
It is necessary for students to take a proactive role in their school careers. They should learn how to communicate their strengths and needs to adults. They should attend their IEP meetings and advocate on their own behalf.
Students who qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are entitled to receive support services that help them make a transition from high school to postsecondary activities. These services may include coursework, related services, community experiences, development of results-oriented employment and/or adult living objectives in their IEPs, and a functional living skills assessment, when warranted.
Beginning when the student is 14 years of age, the IEP team must consider services that are designed to facilitate the student’s transition to adult living. At the age of 16, the IEP team is required to include results-oriented objectives, matched to a student’s postsecondary goals, that provide support to transition to adult living.
Parents should work with their school’s special education coordinator to determine the range of services available, and express their opinions about services and experiences they would like to have provided for their child.
Summary of performance
Students who are eligible to receive special education services are legally entitled to receive a Summary of Performance (SOP) during their final year in high school. The school district is required by federal law (Individual with Disabilities Education Act of 2004) to provide to high school seniors who will be graduating with a regular diploma, a summary of their academic achievement and functional performance. This information will be used by colleges as a basis to determine accommodations granted to a student.
The school district may use their own format to document a student’s strengths and needs. It is very advantageous to a parent to have a template that illustrates the kind of information a complete SOP should contain. It is advantageous to have a history of specific accommodations that were provided in high school and to include these in the SOP. Parents can download a copy prepared by a national coalition of disability rights organizations here.
Only a small percentage of students with special learning needs attend college, but parents have the opportunity to insure that their child is one of the successful ones. The most valuable step parents can take is to mentor their child to believe in their intelligence and talents and know in their heart they can meet the challenge of obtaining a college education. This belief supports the effective action steps that parents and students take throughout their school career to ensure a college diploma.