Only a small percentage of students with special learning needs attend college, but parents have the opportunity, from the moment their child is born, to insure that their child is one of the successful college graduates.

Successful students have strong personal qualities that support their independence. The way you mentor your child all through his or her life develops these personal qualities.

The most important step parents can take is to mentor their child to believe in their intelligence and talents and to 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 need to take throughout their child’s school career to ensure a college diploma. 

Personal qualities that support independence
You can help your child be successful in academics by fostering independence skills. Some of the most important skills your child will need to be independent are the following:

Self-awareness and self-acceptance – Independent people realize they have strengths and weaknesses; they emphasize their strong talents and abilities, and minimize their less developed skills.

Strong emotional coping strategies – Independent individuals have learned to identify situations that can trigger negative reactions. They can monitor their internal reactions, and they have a set of strategies to reduce negative reactions so they can keep on track.

Proactivity – Proactive individuals believe in their ability to achieve, they look for opportunities to grow, and they take substantial steps to make their goals and dreams come to life.

Goal setting – People who are successful have learned how to set realistic, achievable goals. They have developed the capacity to set long-term goals and to break these long-term goals into bite-size pieces that represent action steps they can take to achieve their goal.

Perseverance – Successful people see their setbacks or failures as temporary. When they encounter setbacks, they make adjustments if necessary, but they do not stop believing in their goals.

Use of effective support systems – Both successful and unsuccessful individuals have support systems; however, the successful individuals have learned to seek support when they need it from individuals who will help them achieve their goals.

Self-advocacy action steps for students
These self-advocacy steps will help students obtain the supports they need, not only from others but from themselves as well! Talk these over with your child. Support your child to develop the following as habits of mind and behavior.

  • Have a clear plan to graduate in a certain time frame and set your schedule to realistically accomplish this plan
  • Logically plan the kind of support you need to give to yourself!
  • Meet with your teachers regularly
  • Don’t wait until things get bad to see you need a different approach; if it isn’t working—try another approach
  • Pause, think and reflect before diving in—avoid the “Opps! and regret”
  • Remember: resistance and avoidance stunt maturity; meet challenges head on and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
  • Evaluate and think through setbacks—they are the teachers of success!
  • Success is a consistent mindset that says “I can do this, I will do this!”
  • Everything goes better when you get enough sleep and eat more healthy foods
  • Plan ahead on how to manage stress, loneliness, and change
  • Seek balance in all things—academics, relationships, pursuit of interests, career development, spiritual growth
  • Seek out stabilizing forces (people, classes, work experiences, living arrangements, etc.)
  • As soon as you identify a problem surfacing in a class, figure out how to remove it from your path
  • Make better time estimates; after you figure out how long you think it will take you to do what you need to do, multiply that by at least 150%
  • Keep your long-term, personal goals front and center in your mind, guiding you through the tough times!
  • Reward yourself for meeting your deadlines and achieving your goals!

Action steps a student should take to build a college support network:

  • Think through what kind of support you’d like to have from your parents and friends and express your needs before you go to college
  • Think about the kind of academic support you’ll need (for example, will you need tutoring) and make plans to set this up
  • Don’t suffer in silence – speak out, reach out when you need to
  • Get professional, trained help when you need it: tutors, doctors, etc.

In the previous issue of PSN Magazine, I looked at the best of the Asian “Tiger Mother” style of parenting and the best of the Western “joy in learning” parenting style. The ideas I discussed in that article are relevant to developing independence, and I encourage you to read that article.

Every parent wants to raise their child to be an independent, self-confident, resilient adult. The parenting style most likely to accomplish this worthy goal combines your insistence that your child give every activity his or her absolute best effort, with your encouragement to explore areas of strength and passion. This parenting style develops in your child a mixture of strong-minded, self-directed determination about life, and the willingness to dream and achieve those dreams. The child with these qualities is in the best position to live a successful, independent life.

Dr. Kari Miller is a board certified educational therapist and director of Miller Educational Excellence, a Los Angeles based educational therapy facility whose mission is to bring about unlimited possibilities for students with complicated learning needs by guiding them to discover their true brilliance and use it to change their lives.