July 11, 2024
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Planning for College: Eligibility and Access to Disability Services

Every high schooler finds the adjustment to post-secondary institutions anxiety provoking and full of challenges. But for the student with disabilities, preparation for this next stage in life requires additional consideration and planning. The student who was entitled to certain accommodations and modifications in high school needs to know what rights he or she will have in college and how to access those rights; knowledge and preparation are the keys to success in this transition.

Students with disabilities can receive accommodations at college, but students’ IEPs have no legal bearing once they graduate from high school, nor do their 504 Plans. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA) does not apply to the post-secondary level. Instead, the guidelines for college are governed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, subsection E (not subsection D, which governs 504 plans in secondary school). Post-secondary disability services (DS) work differently than they did in high school, and they place much more of an emphasis on students’ independent functioning.

Since the academic demands of college present numerous challenges for students with learning disabilities (LD) and ADHD, it is critical that they and their parents have the knowledge they need to get access to accommodations, and that the students have strategies to help them function successfully in the college academic environment.

Access to Disability Services and Accommodations

Students with LD and ADHD are responsible for requesting accommodations and services by applying for them through what is typically called the “DS Office” at their campus. Colleges may include information about registering with DS in their acceptance materials and at freshmen orientation, but they do not target individual students to encourage them to apply for assistance. Students typically have to complete a brief form explaining what their disability is and what accommodations they wish to request. Students do not receive services until they register with DS, and if they delay their application until after midterms, as some students do, they will find that any grades they earned before they were approved for accommodations will not be expunged from their transcript.

I always encourage my own students to apply for services as early as possible, as they may need to provide additional information, and this will give them the time to do so. In any case, to avoid later problems, the application to DS, and hopefully the decision, should be completed before the first official day of classes.

Eligibility

Once they apply for accommodations, students who have received special education/504 services in high school typically will be found eligible for support at college, but this is not guaranteed. One obstacle may be documentation. Colleges generally require that a student’s documentation contain a complete standard cognitive and achievement battery, and that such testing be conducted within two to three years of arrival at college (most triennial evaluations done through the Board of Education include these assessments). Depending on the college and when the student was last evaluated, he or she may be required to undergo a complete neuropsychological evaluation in order to be considered eligible for services. This information is usually found on the Disability Services webpage of the college the student is interested in applying to. For the student who will be requesting services, researching the requirements in advance and preparing the correct documentation is critical.

Another obstacle some students run into is that the individual colleges are free to determine which documentation they accept. What this means is that the documentation a student used to access services in high school might not be accepted by his or her college. Whereas federal standards guide the standards for documenting LD and ADHD in elementary through high school, post-secondary institutions are not bound by these standards, and may make individual determinations on what they choose to accept. The less thorough and documented a student’s diagnosis is, the more likely it is to be rejected at the college level. For example, depending on the institution, a child who was diagnosed with ADHD by a pediatrician, rather than a psychologist or psychiatrist, may not have strong enough documentation for college services.

As meticulous as you and your child are about planning college visits and completing applications, you also need to be meticulous as you collect the necessary documentation for his or her application for modifications and accommodations. You need to have in your possession the following documents:

Most recent cognitive and achievement testing (some schools require that these not be more than two years old, many not more than three years old).

The most recent IEP/504 Plan document from your child’s school.

If your child’s pediatrician has been treating your child for ADHD, a letter from the pediatrician indicating the diagnosis and the basis of the diagnosis.

You also need to check with the Office of Disability Services of the various schools to which your child is applying, as they may have specific requirements that have to be met. This should be done sooner rather than later, as you may find that your child needs to meet other criteria and you will need the time to meet these. An excellent resource to begin looking at what different colleges require in terms of documentation is The K & W Guide to College Programs & Services for Students with Learning Disabilities of AD/HD. This resource also includes profiles of colleges and universities that have programs for students with learning disabilities and ADHD.

Next week, watch for part two of this article, which will cover the accommodations students with disabilities can receive at college.

Diane Robertson teaches Language Arts and Mathematics at SINAI’s Maor High School at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, including the William Solomon Judaic Studies Program. SINAI operates several inclusive special education schools throughout northern New Jersey for Jewish children Grades 1–12, as well as programs for adults with developmental disabilities. For additional interesting articles on special education, visit the SINAI blog at www.sinaischools.org/blog.

By Diane Robertson

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