Will my Special Needs Child Attend College?

It’s a question parents of special needs kids are often afraid to seriously consider. Most every father and mother dream that their child will eventually attend college. With my son Kyle starting high school, I find myself wondering whether college is a realistic option. According to the 1994 U.S. Census, one in four college students has special needs. This number is likely to be higher today, since education strategies have improved across the nation. This surprising statistic shows that the dream of college is not necessarily wishful thinking. You have the right to chase this vision!

There are things that you can do as parents to help transition your child to the best post-high school opportunities:

  1. Start discussing post-high school goals early, during your IEP meetings with your child’s teachers and other professionals. Ask questions. What programs or opportunities do these experts think your child is realistically capable of pursuing? It is now a requirement for postsecondary goals to be discussed in your child’s IEP by the time he or she is sixteen, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). That means, if your special needs child is in high school, and if he or she is sixteen, you should already be addressing this issue. If not, it’s time to speak up. These discussions about post high school plans are called “Transition Planning.”
  2. Call local colleges and ask what programs they offer for your child’s specific disability. It’s rare today for colleges NOT to offer services to assist and support students with special needs. Make yourself aware of what is available.
  3. Include your son or daughter in making these post-high school plans. In order for your child to feel content and satisfied with her young adult experience, she will need to play a role in directing her own life. This can be difficult for parents, who feel their child needs their constant care and direction. Take small steps back and let your child have some say. What are her interests? What would she like to do? Where would she like to live?
  4. You should understand that once your child leaves high school, he or she is no longer supported by IDEA, or IEPs. Now your child will be supported by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and section 504. Discrimination in employment, accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications based on a person’s disability is prohibited by the ADA. However, your child is now not a child anymore, but an adult. Education is no longer a guaranteed right, but an opportunity to be sought.
  5. Don’t squash your child’s hopes. If your son or daughter says, “I want to be a doctor,” the goal might be a bit of a stretch. But there are endless opportunities in the medical industry for special needs young adults. They can work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and first aid stations. They can help to construct medical equipment, and do clerical work. If need be, your child’s dreams can be adapted, the same way his education and life style has benefited from adaptations.

With good transition planning during high school, you should have a clear expectation of where your child is headed and how to best support him in his future goals.

I am keeping an open mind with respect to my son’s future. He always surprises me, and am eager to see what he’s able to accomplish. Although transitioning discussions haven’t quite begun yet (he’s only thirteen) I plan to be actively involved in that planning phase of his life, while still letting him lead the way.

For additional resources, see the NICHCY connections page for resources for transitioning children with ADHD and specific learning disabilities.

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.