by Julia Frost, Chairman, Adult Topics Committee
Transitioning from high school to postsecondary education or the workforce can be a challenge for anyone, but for a student with a learning disability, the challenges are multiplied. Each student must know him/herself well so that goals can be set based on individual strengths. Accommodations needed in order to meet the student’s goals should then be determined. Before setting out to meet those goals, it is important for the student to understand the differences between the laws that protect him/her during and after high school. Finally, parents must insure that a student is prepared to handle all aspects of independent living without support. As a result of the time necessary for this process, it is essential that planning begin earlier for a student with a learning disability than for his/her non-disabled peers.
First, it is essential for the student to know him/herself well. A frank discussion should be held between the student and a person who can interpret the most current psychoeducational assessment. The assessment results should be explained in a manner that is easily understood and a conversation held regarding how the results help to explain both the strengths and the challenges that the student experiences. Then, specific future goals can be explored based on strengths. If the future goal requires a college education, then academic challenges can be matched with related accommodations typically available on college campuses as well as specific accommodations that may be needed but are less readily available. It will then be important to choose a college based not only on the major offered but also on availability of specific services. If the future goal does not require a college education, accommodations may also be necessary depending on the demands of the potential job or training program. Whatever option is chosen, the knowledge and skills required for that position should be carefully considered to determine if this is a good match for the student.
It is then important to understand the differences between the laws that are in place for a student in high school and in postsecondary and work settings. In high school, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the school and parents are responsible for insuring that a student’s disability is identified and necessary modifications are made. Following high school, individuals with disabilities are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), but all responsibilities are now their own. The ADAAA is a civil rights law rather than an entitlement law, and while accommodations and aids may be provided, there is no requirement that modifications be made in academics or in work environments. Also, while the IDEA is oriented toward a successful outcome, the ADAAA guarantees equal access, not equal outcome.
Finally, it is essential that parents and educators help to insure that a student is prepared to handle all aspects of independent living without support. This includes such tasks as administration of medication, money management, personal hygiene, and consistent maintenance of a schedule. Parents can begin a gradual teaching of these skills two to three years before graduation so that during the learning period, the parent is there to remind and encourage. As those who work with young adults agree, if an individual is not proficient in these areas, his/her strengths in academics or in job skills will not be enough for him/her to pass college courses or to be retained in a job.
While the transition from high school to the future is a major one for all students, if planning for students with learning disabilities begins early, key goals can be met, and the transition can be a successful one.