special needs students - transition to community collegeEmily Iland, a Los Angeles award-winning author, advocate, and leader in the autism community, offers the third installment in the discussion about preparing college-bound students with special needs for post-secondary education before they leave high school.

Ms. Iland’s insights, based on experience with her own son and dozens of advocacy clients, are widely applicable to individuals on the autism spectrum as well as other special learning needs. The following article has valuable information for all parents of students with IEPs and/or ITPs, whether their child has a learning disability, ADHD or other learning problem requiring special education services.

The insider secrets about transition and community college
There is a well-kept secret that needs to be shared: Community College can be an excellent and FREE transition resource for students with autism and other disabilities while they are still in high school!
Many parents are not aware of dual enrollment, attending community college for credit during high school. You might wonder, “Does dual enrollment mean my high school student has to take college-level courses?”   The answer is, “Yes,” but fortunately the course options can range from online bowling to advanced physics!

Dual enrollment has many advantages. For starters, the college courses are tuition-free for high school students. The students earn both high school and college credits for most classes. The college courses are often “weighted,” meaning that a semester course at a community college may fulfill an entire year requirement at the high school level. The courses taken at the community college often also fulfill specific prerequisites for admission to four-year universities.

Most high schools allow dual enrollment for students from about the age of 14. Counselors at the high school can provide guidance on the process and procedures. The benefits of dual enrollment can be particularly helpful when it comes to students with disabilities.

For example, a student with autism or Asperger’s who has a hard time with Physical Education classes at the high school level can sign up for a college weight-lifting class that fulfills the high school PE requirement and begins the community college career.

Many college-bound students with disabilities struggle with the foreign language requirement. Signing up for a community college course in American Sign Language fulfills the foreign language requirement for graduation in about half the time, compared to high school classes.

The time savings and the fact that college classes are offered at night and on weekends, can also mean the student’s high school day may become more manageable. Taking courses off campus may open up some daytime hours for other transition services like educational therapy, study skills, time management, work experience, social skills training for college and the workplace, or other therapeutic interventions that are part of the IEP and Individualized Transition Plan (ITP).

Community college placement exams
The first requirement before any person is allowed to enroll in classes at a community college is usually to take placement exams. These placement tests are not used to keep anyone out of the college; rather they are designed to determine the incoming student’s level of proficiency compared to the performance level needed for success in a community college. Typically placement exams are required in reading, writing and mathematics. The student makes an appointment to go to the testing center, where testing is often administered using a computer.

Students who do not meet the college standard on placement tests are directed to enroll in a specific remedial class to prepare them for college coursework. They can often take the remedial class while in high school, or wait until they finish their high school coursework.

Taking placement tests can be an advantage for a high school student with a disability. Why? Because it can help determine how close student’s skills sets are to the standard needed for success in post-secondary education. Low scores on the placement tests can alert the student, his or her parents, and the IEP team to address areas of need through IEP goals and services. The first placement test can serve as a baseline measure, and the student can re-take the placement tests to see how he or she is progressing while still in high school.

All of these are great advantages, and there is more to tell. In the next installment, parents will find out why students who plan to attend community college can forget high-stakes testing like the SATs and still attend a four-year university! We will also discuss the services and supports that are (and are not) available for students at community colleges.

Emily Iland is an award-winning author, advocate, researcher, and leader in the autism field. She is the co-author of Autism Spectrum Disorders from A to Z (2004) and translator/publisher of the Spanish version, Los Trastornos del Espectro de Autismo de la A a la Z. Her new book on Reading Comprehension in good decoders with ASD, tentatively titled Drawing a Blank, will be published in Fall, 2010.

How you can reach Ms. Iland:
Email at authors@asdatoz.com
Phone (661) 297-4205
Visit her website.