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Coping with Disabilities in College

The Differences Between High School IEPs and College Assistance


If you’ve got a teen with disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD or another disorder, then you already know all about IEPs and Section 504 plans. And you can probably rattle off the provisions of federal disability laws with the best of them. But IDEA – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – works differently at the college level. Here, in a nutshell, is what happens in college:

IDEA is the federal law that guarantees that children, ages 3-21, receive a K-12 education, and that law and your child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team saw him through high school graduation. Some provisions of IDEA and anti-discrimination laws continue to protect your child in college, but in a different way. They don't guarantee entry or catapult him past the admission requirements. He must qualify for college entry just like anyone else. But federal laws ensure that your child will have wheelchair ramps, if he needs them, at Stanford. And every university has a disabilities office, staffed by counselors who will help provide necessary accommodations.

In high school, it was the school’s responsibility to test, assess and provide remediation, often through pull-out services delivered by specialists in a specific disability. In college, it’s your child’s responsibility to go to the disabilities office and request accommodations. Your child must advocate for himself and provide the necessary documentation; bringing in his high school IEP may be helpful, but he may need further documentation.

Three more caveats: Be aware that any testing – for teens, for example, who suspect they may have an undiagnosed attention deficit disorder – are paid for by the family, not the school. Helpful as the college learning center and disabilities office are, they are not generally staffed by disabilities specialists. And they will not talk to you about your child’s academic progress or condition without his written permission, if he is 18 or older.

And finally, accommodations and services vary from university to university, so your teen should check with his college – or the colleges he is considering – for specifics.

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