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When a student graduates from high school and moves on to college, everything seems to change for them – especially if they have a learning disability. While attending public schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade, students with learning disabilities have a team of support including their parents, teachers, counselors and the special education team (mandated by law in public schools). This support team advocates for the student, and ensures that they are receiving accommodations as needed. However, once a student moves on to college this support team is no longer there to advocate for them, and the student is now responsible for self-advocating.

Difficulties Faced by Students with Learning Disabilities in College

Easton & Coull (1997) identified the top ten difficulties students with learning disabilities face as they begin their freshman year of college.

  • Being unprepared for responsibility.
  • Managing free time.
  • Being overwhelmed by work load.
  • Learning time management skills.
  • Making new friends.
  • Missing academic support of parents.
  • Telling others of their disability.
  • Failing classes.
  • Being distracted and not being able to focus.
  • Being realistic about how the disability affects goals and ambitions.

The Role of the Student

Perhaps one of the most noticeable changes is that students are now their own advocate. Parents and the special education support team are no longer making sure that accommodations are being made available. Students are now responsible for self-identifying as having a disability, requesting specific and appropriate accommodations, and using those accommodations to fulfill curriculum requirements (Smith, English & Vasek, 2002).

The Role of the Parent

Parents continue to be a very important part of the transition process however, their role will change once their child enters college. Parents play more of a facilitator role and will need to encourage the college student to self-advocate. Lynch & Gussel (1996) advise that high school graduates with learning disabilities need practical instruction and support as they carry out their education.

Prior to entering college, an effective self-advocacy technique may include verbal and non-verbal communication. Thierfield (1985) suggests for parents to help their child rehearse skills like:

  • Expressing thoughts and feelings honestly and directly.
  • Making eye contact that is firm but not glaring.
  • Speaking appropriately in an audible voice.
  • Using a speech pattern that is clear.
  • Making appointments to raise issues.


How Providers Can Support Advocacy and Leadership

Join us February 28, 2018 at 12:00 p.m. Eastern for our webinar entitled ‘How Providers Can Support Advocacy & Leadership in Parents of Children with Disabilities’ to learn about the strategies parents use in successful advocacy efforts as well as how the parenting and advocacy journey changes as children grow.

Within this free webinar, participants will explore opportunities to partner with, support, and mentor parents in their advocacy efforts and apply knowledge and skills to case examples about parental advocacy.


Sources Cited:

Eaton, H. & Coull, L. (1998). Transitions to Post-Secondary Learning/Student Work Guide. Eaton Coull Learning Group, Ltd. Publishing.

Lynch, R., Gussell, L. (1996). Disclosure and self-advocacy regarding disability-related needs: strategies to maximize integration in post-secondary education. Journal Counseling & Development. 74, 352-357.

Smith, S.G., English, R., & Vasek, D. (2002). Student and Parent Involvement in the Transition Process for College Freshmen with Learning Disabilities. College Student Journal, 36(4), 491.

Thierfield, J. (1885). Building self-concept and self-esteem through assertiveness training. In J.M. Gartner (ed.). Proceedings of the 1985 AHSSPPE Conference: Association on Handicapped Student Service Programs in Post-Secondary Education. Atlanta, GA: AHSSPPE. 296-299.

This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on February 9, 2018.