Can Special Needs Children Go to College?

Emily Perl Kingsley was a writer for Sesame Street, but perhaps her most famous work is an essay entitled “Welcome to Holland.” As the mother of a son with Down Syndrome, Emily’s writing poignantly captures the experience of parenting special needs children. While parents may have figuratively packed their bags and expected to land in – say – Italy, they instead find themselves getting off the plane in Holland. Their new destination is not bad, but it is different.

It is the same with parents of special needs children. Most spend nine months waiting, planning and expecting an experience like that found in every baby book. However, when the moment arrives and their baby arrives, they discover that they have stepped off the plane in a different world. For parents who embrace their children’s uniqueness, the following years can bring joy and triumphs amid the challenges.

As our society becomes more inclusive, great strides have been made in assuring equality for individuals challenged with a disability. Many special needs children are able to have many of the same experiences as their peers. But the question in the back of many parents mind is can my child attend college?

Concerned parents will be happy to know that the answer is yes!

Accommodations for Special Needs Students

During the elementary and high school years, the government requires that school districts accommodate special needs students. Schools must meet with parents and create an individualized education plan that creates personalized goals that take into consideration the student’s abilities and challenges. Depending on the disability, schools districts may be required to provide education to students up to 26 years of age.

After high school, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that colleges be accessible to special needs students. Among other things, that means that they cannot discriminate against individuals because of their disability. Once on campus, though, the college is not responsible for providing any services for special education needs. In other words, once accepted, special needs students must sink or swim on their own.

College Success for Special Needs Children

Since the college isn’t required to provide services, you may need to take extra steps to ensure that your child’s special education needs are being met. Here are some suggestions to make the experience a positive one:

  • Look for a college that caters specifically to special needs students
  • Consider a college close to home so you can help with transportation, homework and study habits as needed
  • Avoid larger lecture style classes for students who have difficulty with organization and attention
  • Use an education coach to help your child evaluate their special education needs and select the right degree program
  • Consider other higher education options such as certificate or apprenticeship programs
  • Resist the urge to advocate on behalf of your student. Most colleges won’t talk to a student’s parent. Instead coach your child on self-advocacy skills.

One only has to look to Stephen Hawking, one of the world’s greatest minds to see that a disability does not have to limit a person’s potential. With careful evaluation of their abilities and access to education resources, special needs children have potential to excel in higher education and beyond.

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©2013 Tanya Knight International, Inc.

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