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  • Writer's pictureApril Avey Trabucco

Setting kids with learning differences up to thrive

As part of our ACADEMIC MOTIVATION blog series we have a guest post from Raising Resilience committee member and college consultant, Tara Powers-Hausmann of College Fit Consulting. This post focuses on how to prepare kids with learning differences (LDs) for college and beyond. The process starts before high school. Tara defines SIX STEPS you can follow with your child.

Don't forget to check out Raising Resilience's online parent support program, CONNECTIONS CAFE. Slides from our latest Back to School session are now available on the page and you access the video through our Library Video page.


College Readiness for Students with Learning Differences

Sobering Statistics: The college graduation rate for students with learning differences (LDs) is only 34% (within 8 years at a 4-year college), and only 17% of students with a learning difference receive accommodations and supports in college.

Why? The majority of students with LDs enter college unprepared in several ways. The first big surprise is that once a young person enters college, they are considered an adult. According to The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), “When a student turns 18 years old, or enters a postsecondary institution at any age, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student ("eligible student").”2 Parents may no longer be involved, except in a supportive role for the student. The student must initiate contact with someone from the college’s office of accessability/disability services, follow that college’s instructions and provide necessary documentation, and oftentimes, alert their professors to their accommodations. This is a very big leap from the way the process works in the K-12 world!

The Good News: Here’s what parents can do:

1. Self-Advocacy. Start the process of having your student self-advocate as early as possible and be sure they practice a lot.

This starts with parents modeling how to advocate for their student, then having them do it on their own with your support and presence, and then eventually having them do this completely on their own. Ideally this starts in middle school or early in high school.

2. Know Your LD. Be certain that both you and your student understand their disability and that the student can describe it to an adult. The student should fully understand how they think and learn. An LD is with you for life; knowing both the strengths and weaknesses associated with that LD will really help.

3. Make a Transition Plan. For high-school students with an IEP (Individualized Education Program), transition planning is built into the program. Both a parent and the student should be present for transition planning. If the goal is to attend college, the plan should include building self-advocacy skills and learning about how accommodations work in college. For students with a 504 plan, the transition planning will need to be done by a parent and the student. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) has thorough, helpful guide:3

4. Self-Esteem. Having an LD is challenging and can take a toll on confidence and self-esteem. Be sure your student has opportunities to build self-esteem. These can be activities that build confidence and make them happy. When looking for good-fit colleges, look for places that offer those activities.

5. Independence. Waking up without assistance, managing medications, and managing time are must-have skills in college. The time to develop those skills is when the student is still at home. Involving your student in their transition planning can also foster independence. Does your student struggle with executive function? Consider having your student work with a coach to develop skills to better manage time, organize, and prioritize.

6. Build a Support Team. Students with LDs have the greatest success when they have a strong network of allies who believe in them. Results of NCLD’s 2015 Student Voices survey revealed three common themes among students who successfully transitioned to college: a supportive home life, a strong sense of self-confidence, and a strong connection to friends and community.3

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1Cortiella, Candace and Horowitz, Sheldon H. The State of Learning Disabilities: Facts, Trends and Emerging Issues. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2014.

2Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). (2018, March 01). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from

3Transitioning to Life After High School. (2019, November 21). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from

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