The transition from high school student to college student should be exciting. Going from life in a high school to living and learning on a college campus can mean more freedom, more responsibility, and more fun. That transition isn’t always easy for students with learning disabilities, though, as they may feel more anxious about this big change than other students do.
Undergraduate enrollment is projected to hit 17 million between 2018 and 2029, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD) reported that 19% of undergraduates are living with a learning disability.
In some cases, students with learning disabilities can find school challenging and unenjoyable as they struggle to successfully complete their coursework and earn their degree. The pandemic hasn’t helped alleviate any of those concerns, either. While online courses have been a common method of learning during the pandemic, the environment is shifting to in-person learning once again. The return to an in-person education environment can add to the stress students with learning disabilities face when enrolled in college courses.
Luckily, there shouldn’t be much cause to worry. There are a variety of available resources available for students with learning disabilities, all of which are designed to ensure students have a positive, rewarding college experience. You can find many of those resources in this guide, which will help prospective college students who suffer from a learning disability gain insight to the type of help available to them on their campuses, along with information on how to access these resources to make the college experience more enjoyable.
Students with Learning Disabilities
Many students with learning disabilities will show signs of their struggles as adolescents, which means intervention and resources happened early on during their education. However, this isn’t always the case. Some people don’t start to show signs of a learning disability that early on, and may notice issues like misspelling of words, misreading or misunderstanding information, or difficulty focusing on tasks as they attend their high school or college classes.
Regardless of when students start to show signs of a learning disability, it is still completely possible to complete a higher education. Between 8% to 10% of the population under the age of 18 in the United States have some type of disability — and this includes high school students. Many of these students will go on to become college freshmen who are working to obtain an associate's, bachelor's or higher degree.
As mentioned above, about 19% of undergraduates, including college freshmen, are living with learning disabilities while enrolled in college. And, it appears most are succeeding in their quest to conquer higher education. According to NCES, about 67.1% of students with disabilities, including learning disabilities, have graduated from a postsecondary institution. Many of these students likely utilized the campus resources available to students with disabilities throughout their undergraduate studies.
8 Most Common Learning Disabilities
What exactly is a learning disability? A learning disability is a disorder that can negatively impact a person's comprehension of oral and written language, reading, and mathematics. In many cases, students with learning disabilities will have difficulty listening, speaking, spelling, problem solving, or other education-related tasks. These disabilities are the result of genetic and/or neurological factors, which can, in some cases, affect multiple learning-related cognitive processes.
According to the Learning Disability Association of America (LDA), 2.3 million students have been diagnosed with specific learning disabilities. This does not include disabilities such as blindness, deafness or autism.
While many types of learning disabilities exist, there are certain disabilities that are more common than others, and each learning disability affects students in a different way. The 8 most common learning disabilities include:
- Dyslexia: This learning disability affects a person's ability to read.
- Dysgraphia: This learning disability affects a person's ability to write legibly.
- Dyscalculia: This learning disability affects a person's ability to understand numbers and complete math calculations.
- Auditory Processing Disorder (APD): This learning disorder affects a person's ability to hear and process what they are hearing.
- Language Processing Disorder: This learning disorder affects a person's ability to express themselves and understand oral and written language.
- Nonverbal learning disabilities: These types of learning disabilities affect a person's ability to understand nonverbal communication, such as body language and facial expressions.
- Visual-motor deficit: This type of learning disorder affects a person's ability to understand visual information.
- ADHD: This learning disorder, also known as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, affects a person's ability to focus. Those affected by this type of learning disorder may also exhibit behavioral issues.
What your school should do for you
If you have a learning disorder, you may be asking what your school should do for you during your transition from high school to college. And, you may also want to know how they should help to support and accommodate you during the duration of your program, which is equally important.
The good news is that college campuses all over the world are accommodating to students with learning disabilities. When you enroll as a college student, you are not required to disclose to anyone that you have a learning disability. However, if your school is not aware of your learning disability, certain resources may not be an option. Should you voluntarily disclose that you have a learning disability, your school can help to assist you with utilizing the resources designed to help you complete your studies successfully.
Know your rights when it comes to schooling
There are also legal protections in place for students with disabilities. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is designed to protect the rights of those living with disabilities. Simply put, under this act, schools are required by law to make certain accommodations available to students with disabilities to assist them with the completion of their coursework. This includes making accommodations for college students.
Under this act, all programs and courses offered by college campuses have to be accessible to students with disabilities. To ensure this is the case, schools will modify policies, practices, and procedures to make sure students are accommodated appropriately depending on their individual needs.
The protection provided in college is similar to the protections you may have received in elementary and high school. That said, there are differences you should be aware of before you enter college. Rather than providing students with aids and services that meet their needs, post secondary institutions are required to provide academic adjustments that do not discriminate against a student's disability.
In general, a few ways your school can work with you to accommodate your learning disability include:
- Assistive software and technology: Certain learning disabilities require students to utilize assistive technology, which is considered a piece of equipment, software program, or system that improves a student's learning. Recording devices, text-to-speech devices, recorded texts, and captions are examples of the assistive technology your campus may provide to you and other students with learning disabilities.
- Support groups and centers: The disability services office and student-led support groups are there to help students with learning disabilities complete their coursework with ease. In addition to on-campus groups and centers, online communities and groups can also offer students the support they need while earning their degree.
- Modified course schedules: Campuses offer students with disabilities the option to modify their schedules or how they interact with coursework. Students can utilize note takers, substitute certain courses required for program completion, and receive written outlines and lecture summaries for a course. Additionally, students with disabilities can enroll in programs early to ensure time is allotted for accommodations, bring service animals to in-person classes, and change the location of classes to a more accessible location.
Finding the best school for you
Finding the best school for you is important. Every student is unique, so your needs will differ from other students with disabilities, and it’s important to find the right fit for you. You’ll likely need a school with a variety of resources available to you, and you'll need to do your research to know what options are available on each campus or in each program to help you succeed academically.
As you search for the best school for you, one thing that can help is to browse school websites. You can often find information regarding the services and resources available to students with disabilities on these sites, which can make it easier to narrow down the options. For example, a list of assistive software and technology and campus support groups and information regarding the school's disability services office should be accessible to anyone who visits the school's website, so make sure to take the available information into account.
It can also be helpful to speak to college students with disabilities who are enrolled in the programs you’re interested in to find out their experiences. You may gain some insight into how your experience would be on campus from hearing from other students with similar learning disorders. And, this kind of information can be useful even if the person isn’t enrolled in the program you’re looking at. After all, a conversation about college life as a student with a learning disability can help put you at ease and prepare you for your time at school — whichever you choose to attend.
As you search for the perfect college, you may also want to ask yourself the following questions to help you decide what school is the ideal fit for you:
- What are the percentages and ranges of disabilities?
- Are there support groups and student-led clubs for students with disabilities?
- Who should you notify of your disability and who will already be notified via your application and enrollment information?
- What kind of adaptive software will you have access to?
- Will the disability resource center make the accommodation arrangements on your behalf?
- Will the college make texts available in various formats, including electronic, audio, or large print?
- Who can you speak to if a professor is unwilling to comply with your request?
- How will any situations with professors who are unwilling to comply with your requests be handled?
- How many staff members are available to assist students with learning disabilities?
- What is the graduation rate for students with learning disabilities?
- How many students access the services available to students with disabilities?
There are thousands of two- and four-year postsecondary institutions to choose from across the nation. Students with learning disabilities are not limited when it comes to what college they can attend. That said, as with any prospective college student, a student with learning disabilities should do their research when weighing the options to ensure they are making the right choice. If you’re looking at colleges but are worried about accommodations for a learning disorder, just know that it is possible to find the perfect school to support your educational needs and offer you the chance to have the college experience you deserve.
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