College, IEPs and 504s - 3 Things You Really Need To Know
With the start of college weeks away, you may be wondering where the years went. For some parents, it seems as though this step arrives before your own emotional preparations are complete. It surely did for me. And this transition is different and more complicated if your child received special education services and supports in school. So before the packing ends and loading the car begins, there are some things you need to know, starting with the most important fact of all.
You know all those IEPs and 504s sitting in that portable file container or stored under your bed? They no longer apply in college. But before you run outside and start a bonfire to burn them, read on...
Disability Services...Your New Best Friend
1. If you have not had a conversation with the Disability Services office at your child's soon-to-be college or university, now's the time. Deliver to their office copies of your child's IEP and/or 504 and his/her most recent Evaluation Report (and hopefully your child has been re-evaluated within the past 2-3 years) to begin the process of securing accommodations for your child.
While the laws change in terms of what colleges need to do to help support your child's learning needs, there are requirements that they accommodate a "documented disability" and each college addresses this differently. And, if you haven't scheduled a meeting or, at a minimum, a conversation with a key member of the Disability Services office, the time to do so is now. You want to know them but more importantly, you want them to know you. Yes, they're going to tell you that your child is considered an adult (which for many is not the case) and will not need your involvement. And yes, your child will need to self-advocate. However, you are not suddenly out of the picture.
Forms...Your Next New Best Friend
2. Be sure your child requests and signs the forms housed, but often not readily made available nor discussed, in the Disability Services, Student Services, Bursar's office, and beyond to allow you to speak with them about your child. They will sometimes say that they cannot speak with you or share information even with these forms signed, however if your child does not sign them, you have a better chance of flapping your arms and flying over campus to find out what's going on than you will of accessing information from any department or individual about your child.
Your Child Takes Over...Somewhat
3. Your child will be responsible for securing his/her accommodations directly with professors but this only happens after Disability Services "grants" the accommodations. Letters (hard copy or e-mail versions) will be provided to your child once the accommodations being provided are decided, and it is up to him/her to determine whether they believe the accommodations that have been secured are *needed* for that particular class.
Colleges typically recommend that students provide their accommodations letters within the first week or so of class. Waiting until mid-terms to realize that they're having difficulty or failing and then trying to provide the accommodations letters is a no-go. Providing these letters to professors (and hard copies hand-delivered is preferred) is an opportunity for your child to introduce him/herself and serves as an important self-advocacy opportunity as well.
Preparation Is Key
The start of college is major milestone and transition. Buying dorm furnishings and setting up a meal plan are things that, when done, are typically done. But if your child has issues with anxiety or depression, has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome or ADHD, or is already experiencing nerves about this transition, their needs may intensify as the move-in date approaches and beyond and ongoing support may be needed.
Putting supports in place now is essential. And remember...whether it's e-mails, texts, or phone calls (the latter is best because you can tell a lot by the sound of your child's voice), maintain regular and ongoing contact. It may ebb and flow as your child gets into the groove of classes and other activities, yet you need to stay on the pulse of what's happening.
Keep in mind that this move toward independence is not like flipping a switch, despite what you're told at college orientation. It's more like floating down a long river with plenty of twists, turns, and possibly rocks along the way. And while it may not be a bumpy ride all the way, preparing now will allow you to enjoy floating when the smooth parts of the trip arrive.
And...if a review of your transition plan including the steps you've taken or still need to take and recommendations for move-in and beyond would help you, a Special Education Check-Up might be the answer.