College & Disability

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

New student orientation always includes a parent session, when administrators announce that your child is now an adult...and you can leave. Yet if your child has a disability, this scenario is a bit different, and you need to know how.

As a guest on Blog Talk Radio with Dr. Richard Selznick, psychologist, author, and university professor on pediatrics on the topic of college transition and students with learning disabilities (, we discussed these issues. With increasing numbers of students with disabilities attending college, it's important that you know that you play a pivotal role in helping your child succeed. And for students with "hidden disabilities," the process can be even more complex.

Here are some key points:

1. Your child's IEP and 504 are no longer applicable in college nor are their protections under IDEA. In college, it's the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 which address "leveling the playing field" and anti-discrimination. And, accommodations are not automatically provided. 

2. Access information about each college's Disability Services office as you're evaluating college choices. Your child does not need to disclose (and I often advise against) about their disability during the application process, yet see what information is available via their web page or office. You'll want to check, for example, the types of "typical" accommodations they provide, the number of students utilizing their services, whether their staff has expertise with specific disabilities, special housing options, and the graduation rate for students with disabilities.

3. You and your child will need to connect with the Disability Services office to request accommodations after acceptance and the decision to attend has been made. This process requires a relatively recent (i.e. within the past 2-3 years) evaluation report, plus you'll want to provide them with your child's IEP and/or 504 for reference. And, make certain that this evaluation report specifically addresses the accommodations your child may need in college.

4. If your child has mental health issues and needs, connect with counseling or psychological services to evaluate their supports and ask how they collaborate with Disability Services as well. And if your child is attending college far from home, speak with your child's current clinician/s to see if they offer virtual sessions and support and consider securing off-campus resources and supports too.

5. Ensure that your child signs a FERPA or release of information form so that you're able to speak with college. Do this in all relevant departments -- a form signed in one department - e.g. Disability Services, is not necessarily shared with the Bursar's Office. Student services, counseling, housing...all critical departments. You want to have your safety net in place should issues arise.

And finally, your child needs to understand that they must secure accommodations early in the semester (within the first week or 10 days). Plus, it's up to them to determine in which classes they'll be needed. Accommodations are not retroactive so if your son/daughter is failing a class mid-semester, any accommodations would apply from that point forward.

The transition to college is a major life milestone, for you as parents and for your child.  You remain pivotal in terms of maintaining ongoing communication with your child once the transition occurs, and to engage with your child's college or university if needs warrant.

And remember...while texting is fast and easy, you can tell plenty by hearing the sound of your child's voice and seeing their face, so make it a point to schedule regular, albeit brief, conversations as well. College is the start of a new phase of independence, and while turning 18 does not suddenly make you an adult, the start of college does not automatically make your child capable of handling classes, roommates, and all the other issues that make college exciting and complicated, particularly for young people with disabilities.


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