I find that college planning is on many parents’ minds even before junior year in high school. When parents receive diagnosis of a learning disability, ADHD or Asperger Syndrome, the meaning of doing well in school needs to be redefined. It is no longer, “Just work harder.” Now it means find out how your child learns, and work with the school to make sure he gets what he needs. Often the school and family situation gets very painful before proper services are in place. The family is in a crisis, and parents ask questions like, “Will he be able to live on his own?” “Will he go to college?”

For many students the answer is yes, but the path to college and eventual independence might be different for your child. As the pressure and the competition build among students and parents, it is helpful if parents can link with other families who are having to “think outside the box” about this next step. It is helpful to involve yourself with organizations that provide education and advocacy. In New England one such organization is the Aspergers Association of New England (AANE). In fact, in two weeks AANE is sponsoring a daylong conference entitled “Success After High School.” Another such organization in New England is the Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN). They also provide education for students and parents on planning for transition out of high school.

Before they have actually faced the college application process, many parents and students assume that everyone applies and goes to a four year college. In fact, there are as many ways to make this next step as there are people. A colleague of mine learned when his son and friends were applying to college to ask “What will Sam be doing next year?” rather than, “Where is Sam going to college?” This avoided embarrassing the students who were not taking the “typical path.”

If your child will be taking the SAT or ACT, make sure that you help him or her obtain testing accommodations if possible. The requirements have tightened up. You will need to submit data from recent neuro-psychological testing. It is worthwhile, though, so that your child’s intelligence shows through rather than the ways he learns and tests differently from his typical peers. You will also need this testing for your child to request accommodations in college.

When you are looking for schools, look for those that have strong academic supports for students with learning disabilities. There is actually a Peterson’s guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or ADHD. It explains about different services available in different colleges. There is a tremendous range from the schools that offer peer tutoring to anyone who asks to those with specific services for qualifying students and finally those whose whole mission is to provide higher education to students with learning disabilities.

Often I find that students who have significant learning disabilities are also less confident and more dependent on their families. They may need to make the shift to greater independence in smaller steps. Some start out at a community college nearby so they can live at home. Some might live away, but stay fairly close to home. Some start out at a school with a great amount of structure and support for students with learning disabilities, but once they get their “sea legs” for college, they can transfer to a more challenging school with less academic support.

A useful book about this process is Learning Outside the Lines by Mooney, Cole and Hallowell. In this book the first two authors describe their quite checkered careers in high school and first two years of college, due to their ADHD for one and LD for the other. They met when they both transferred to Brown University as juniors. The second half of the book gives their very practical recommendations for managing college work when you have a disability.

All through the process it is so helpful to remember that you and your child are looking for the higher education experience that is right for him or her. The US News and World Report ratings of schools are not all that useful in this regard, though your neighbors might be quoting the rankings. A good fit for your child will help your child develop into the independent young adult you want to see. Good luck!

Author's Bio: 

Parent Coach and Licensed Psychologist, Carolyn Stone, Ed.D. (www.drcarolynstone.com) educates parents of children with learning disabilities, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and anxiety about their children’s needs using humor and evidence-based practices. Parents learn new strategies through role play and homework. She teaches children to manage their anxiety and attention and to understand their learning styles. You can learn about Dr. Stone’s work from her blog at http://www.drcarolynstone.com/blog/.