A parent's guide to college transition for students with disabilities

The time’s almost here. This Fall, thousands of students will be flying the nest into college education, and around 19% of them will have a registered disability.

So what are the challenges that lie ahead? And how can parents help their kids soar?

We want to demystify this for you. By following the steps we’ve outlined below, you’ll give them a great head start for what will hopefully be a transformative period of their lives.

In this guide we’ve included some basic information that will help students prepare for their arrival on campus or a semester at home.

But crucially, we’ve included important guidance on self-advocacy, study skills and independent note taking - disciplines that are essential to success at college no matter where or how your child is learning this year.

Pre-semester: The basics on campus

Some of these questions you’ll have been discussing for months. But here’s a recap to make sure you’re on top of things.

Work out a realistic weekly budget
Have you talked money with your child? Are you helping them financially? Will they need a job while studying? Having an open conversation and working out a budget should be a top priority.

Self-care
It’s amazing how many students arrive on campus without knowing basic self-care skills like cooking, washing and cleaning. Take your child on a crash course if they struggle with this, or get in touch with the institution to discuss living assistance if it’s needed.

Campus covid-security
What procedures does the campus have in place to keep students Covid secure? While campus may be reopening for many colleges, the pandemic is still with us. Getting familiar with the institution’s policies (and remaining vigilant) will be key to remaining as safe as possible.

What to take (and what not to)
What seems essential to your child before moving out might be a millstone when the reality of space on campus hits. Make sure you and your child are ruthless about what needs to be taken and what doesn’t.

Establishing routines
Like never before, self-discipline is key for college students. Setting a routine early on that allows for plenty of both studying and socializing will help students get acclimated and prepare them for the academic challenges to come.

Pre-semester: Learning remotely

If your child is spending the first semester remote learning, how can you make the home environment as suitable as possible for study? Here are some essentials:

A quiet environment
If the house is busy during the day, work out where and how you can provide a quiet space for study. Encourage your child to work away from their room (if possible) and to take regular breaks.

A dedicated workspace
Study sessions at the kitchen counter or in bed can create distractions, back pain and eye strain. A dedicated workspace can help ward off these issues.

Technology
It’s an obvious point, but a student studying from home will need access to a laptop or PC. If this will be difficult for you to manage, the institution should be able to loan one out to you.

Internet connection
Lectures over video conferencing apps require a download speed equivalent to 4G to operate smoothly. Does your connection support this? If you live in a rural area with slow speeds or poor bandwidth, consider a booster or data add-on.

If you’re struggling to pay for these adjustments, the institution may be able to help. Speak to the finance office to enquire about CARES Act funding (or any other support packages for students during remote learning).

The first few weeks: Self-advocacy

Students with a disability must be prepared to fight their own battles through college. This skill is referred to as self-advocacy.

According to a study on self-advocacy published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, there are 3 distinct types that students will need to be comfortable with to ensure they’re receiving the right support. These are proactive, reactive and retrospective self advocacy.

Possessing all three is how a student ensures they’re not only receiving the right support now, but have the ability to respond to changes and improve support later.

Proactive
Seeking support and accommodations before they’re needed (usually before the semester).
Reactive
Speaking up in the face of a challenge or obstacle (for example, difficulty taking notes in class).
Retrospect
Retrospective self-advocacy is about learning from experience, reflecting on gaps in support and putting it right.

Proactive: Action Register with disability services in week 1 and book a consultation.

Reactive: Action Book a meeting with your academic adviser after the first few classes to discuss any challenges you’ve encountered.

Retrospective: Action Provide feedback to disability services on classroom tools and accommodations at the end of the semester.

Reactive self-advocacy relies on a clear understanding of how your disability affects your study and being able to communicate that to others.

For college and beyond: Independent study skills

Independent study is what college is all about. And many of the habits, skills and disciplines students pick up during their time on campus will carry over to the workplace. But there are some areas where students with disabilities will need support to reach their full potential.

Here’s a brief list of some skills that will be important for your child to discuss with disability services and/or their academic adviser:

Reading and comprehension: The ability to interpret, analyse and critically engage with course materials.

Research: Identifying secondary materials, evaluating important information and building this into course work.

Essay writing: Constructing arguments, communicating them fluently and referencing others’ work appropriately.

Examinations: Working well under time constraints or in a controlled environment.

Some tips for transition:

  • It’s important to know whether your child’s institution runs workshops on fundamental study skills. If so, it would be a good idea to get booked on to one of these courses (usually a handful of 1 hour sessions).

  • When registering with disability services, make sure your child asks about these specific areas. There may be accommodations available to help if a disability presents an obstacle.

We’ve yet to discuss the most important day-to-day skill a new student will need to get comfortable with at college: independent note taking. Let’s take a look at it separately.

The problem with note taking

Fact: students that take good notes achieve more at college. This is because the act of note taking helps both encode and store information in the brain for long-term memory.

Note taking is also a process that draws heavily on working memory, something that many neurodiverse learners experience challenges with.

Meanwhile, professors are delivering lectures packed with useful information and insight. But even the best note takers struggle to get down more than one third of lecture content.

So what’s the solution? How can students with disabilities benefit from good note taking to improve their learning without hitting an obstacle linked to their disability?

This is where you can give your child a real head start this Fall.

To help you prepare your child for the challenge of college note taking, we’re offering you a free trial of Glean.

35 %
Students’ notes including peer notes, only capture 35% of lecture content
37 %
Distractions create a 37% drop in students’ attention levels.
20 %
Students only remember up to 20% of information if they don’t review.

Empower learners of all abilities

Talk to us about how Glean for Education can support and improve note taking skills.