by Allen Broyles
by Allen Broyles, First Vice President, LDA Board of Directors


A parent’s guide to asking the right questions and preparing your child to be an advocate

As a parent of a child with learning disabilities, it is almost certain that one of your major life activities is advocating for your child’s needs at school and remaining vigilant that the school follows through with agreed upon supports.  As you and your child draw closer to the transition from secondary education schooling to post-secondary and college, much of the role you have been playing on behalf of your child shifts abruptly from you to your child.  Unlike K-12 schooling, where the responsibility for requesting and delivering services falls on the adults in a student’s life, suddenly the student is responsible for advocating for his or her own needs and independently taking advantage of support services that are offered.  This is a role for which many students are not well prepared, and it is usually incumbent upon you, the parent, to make sure your child is prepared for this increased role.

There are important questions to ask as you investigate a college or university and the services that are available.   While much information is available online and in admissions materials, it is critical to visit the school and ask questions in person to ensure that your child’s specific needs can be addressed.  There are equally important questions to ask yourself about your child’s readiness for the independence required to be successful both in and out of the classroom, and specific steps you can take to prepare them.  Armed with these questions about college services and your child’s profile, you can begin to develop a plan to ensure that your child has the tools necessary to be successful in post-secondary life.

Questions to ask a prospective college or university

  • What types of specific accommodations are available, and to what degree are they available for all classes? (e.g. assistive technology, note-taking support, extra time, course waivers and substitutions)
  • What documentation is necessary for students to access services (e.g. psycho-educational assessment within last 3 years, letter from principal/school?)
  • How large is the learning support office? Are there trained learning specialists on staff?  How many students are in the support program?
  • Do students have an assigned advisor or is it a rotating position? Are appointments scheduled or drop-in?
  • Is priority registration available for students with disabilities?
  • Can students take a reduced course load and still be considered full time?
  • Does the school offer a summer program for incoming students? What are the entrance requirements? How are students identified/selected for the summer program? What are the conditions for full admittance after the summer program?
  • How are the professors and instructors notified that the students need accommodations in class? Is the school culture one in which the professors and instructors are willing to work with students who have disabilities?  Does the learning support staff intervene or advise students on which professors or instructors are most supportive?
  • Is tutoring available? Are the tutors students/graduate students or professionals/faculty? Is tutoring one-on-one or in small groups?  Is tutoring available in study skills/executive functioning?  Writing skills?  Academic subjects?
  • Is tutoring support on campus or off campus? Do students need a car to access available supports?  Is there an on-campus transportation system?
  • Can the office provide the names of outside tutors or academic/study skills/executive functioning coaches?
  • What advice is given to students if they are having difficulty receiving their accommodations?
  • Does the college/institution have a separate program for students with learning disabilities in addition to support for its general program? If so, is there a separate application or fee?

Questions to ask yourself about your child’s readiness for self-advocacy and independence

Your role of chief advocate for your child is a very positive and necessary one, with one large potential downside.  It can be hard to step back and let your child struggle and fail, which, while hard for any parent, can limit your child in learning how to recover from challenges and how to function independently.   Think of it like the driver’s license process.  Early on, you are in the seat next to your child, ready to help, but in the end, your child is doing the driving.  In the high school years, you should be sliding over to the passenger seat, allowing your child greater responsibility in “driving” his or her education.  You are still there to step in when there is a major issue but you are also allowing your child to “hit the curb” a few times.

Recovery from failure is a vital lesson to allow your child to learn prior to leaving for college.  These questions may help you frame incremental opportunities to build your child’s resilience and independence during the high school years.  Whatever approach is right for you and your child, it is very important to have your high school-age son or daughter participate in the advocacy process. 

  • Do you have a clear picture of your child’s independent living skills and ability to organize and manage life without having you nearby? Can you see this child, who is now a young adult, living on his/her own?
    • Steps you can take to support your child:
      • Seek opportunities for your child to experience independence, like camps, school trips, or, making shopping trips for the family.
      • Provide opportunities for your child to manage money.
      • If you child takes medication, or has medical considerations, involve him/her in making appointments, getting refills, and taking medication daily without reminders.
      • Have your child practice basic independent living skills like laundry, getting up in the morning, and preparing.
      • Have your child set up a schedule of school tasks, homework, home tasks, events, etc.
    • Does your child understand his or her own learning profile and what accommodations are needed? Is he/she able to advocate for what is needed with teachers?
      • Steps you can take to support your child:
        • Go over your child’s psycho-educational testing to help him/her understand the details of the profile.
        • Have your child attend and participate in his/her IEP meetings.
        • Make sure your child understands accommodations allowed under ADA, and how to describe and ask for those accommodations.
        • If your child receives a bad grade, rather than calling the teacher, work with your child so that he/she can have the conversation with the teacher. Come up with the plan and support your child in implementing the plan rather than doing it yourself.
        • Coach your child to ask teachers for accommodations that are needed, with a focus on clear communication. Help with appropriate language to use in this conversation. 
      • On college visits, is your child ready to take leadership in the process?
        • Steps you can take to support your child:
          • Have your child take control of the application process, taking the lead in scheduling the visit. Help him/her with the language to be used on the calls and communications.
          • Help your child develop questions from the list above that he/she will ask on the visit.

There is so much to learn to feel secure in your child’s choice of school and its fit for his/her learning profile.   By exploring these questions about prospective schools, you can gain confidence that the college or university has the right set of services for your child.  By exploring the questions about your child’s readiness for independence, you can ensure that your child is as prepared as possible to take the lead in seeking out a college and is ready to manage the increased complexities of living independently. 


Allen Broyles is the Assistant Head of School and Middle School Principal of The Howard School, a K-12 school for students with language-based learning differences in Atlanta.  He is a member of LDA Georgia and currently serves as First Vice President on the national LDA Board of Directors.


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