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Learning Challenges

• New Role for College Parents •

The transition to college can be a difficult one for students and parents alike. That transition can be even more demanding if your student has learning challenges. This is no longer high school, and new rules apply. Make sure you know what comes next so you can help your college student prepare. Here are some things you might want to take note of and discuss with your student if learning challenges are an issue:

Know Your Student’s Rights and Obligations

The rights and obligations of college students with learning disabilities and other challenges are far different than those rights and obligations during high school. It is now the student’s responsibility to seek out necessary services and accommodations.

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which governs special education in grades K-12, does not apply to post-secondary institutions.
  • Student’s rights in college are governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, all of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.
  • The student must locate the office on the college campus that provides services for students with disabilities, identify him- or herself to the office, request accommodations, and provide required documentation to support the need for accommodations.
  • Parents can no longer direct or be involved in arranging for accommodations without the college student giving the school permission to discuss these matters with the parents [FERPA].
  • College students must learn to self-advocate, which means the student must understand the nature of their learning issues and needed accommodations, and become more assertive with professors and administrators.

Know What Documentation is Required

  • Required documentation to identify learning challenges varies from institution to institution. Check the college’s Office of Disability Services for documentation standards. Most colleges have this information available on their websites.
  • Most recent IEP or Section 504 plans may not be sufficient, although they may help identify services used by the student in the past.
  • Documentation must establish the existence of a current disability or condition and the need for academic accommodations.

Know Your Kid

College is a new adventure for every student. A new environment, a new daily schedule, and new friends may impact choices they make at college.

  • Some students who take medication for attention issues to treat learning challenges choose to go off medication at this time. Talk with your student about the risks and benefits of continuing or discontinuing medication.
  • Educate yourself and your student about the resources available on campus, and encourage your student to seek out these resources at the beginning of the school year.
  • Be aware of any signals of unusual behavior from your child. If you feel your child is in real danger, this is the time you should intervene and call the school.

Know About ADHD Medication Abuse & Talk With Your Student

Misuse and abuse of ADHD medication on college campuses is widespread, as some kids share drugs with fellow students to help them “stay focused.”

  • Kids who take medication may be pressured to share by friends, or may be tempted to generate spending money by selling “extra” pills, particularly during finals.
  • It is illegal to obtain ADHD medication without a prescription, and it is illegal to sell or give away such medication to someone else.
  • Many schools will not prescribe or fill prescriptions for ADHD medication at the student health center, requiring that students obtain medications from home or from an off-campus pharmacy, due to liability concerns.

There’s obviously a lot more to know about life and academics at college for kids with learning challenges, disabilities and special needs. Be knowsy and please comment. Sharing what you know can be a huge help to other parents with similar concerns.


Want to know more? We found these resources and articles especially interesting:

Colleges Respond to Growing Ranks of Learning Disabled (Hechinger Report 2014)

ADDvance, Information for Young Adults & College Students With ADHD

Self-Advocacy for College Students by Richard Goldhammer and Loring C. Brinckerhoff

It’s Hard to Let Go of the ADHD College Student by Dr. Edward Hallowell and David Keevil, Psy.D.

College Students Abusing ADHD Medication (WPRI News)

Colleges Tackle Illicit USe of ADHD Pills (NY Times)


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