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The Transition from High School to College

A Guide for Students with Disabilities and their Parents

The transition from high school to college can be a very difficult process for students with disabilities. The laws governing college/university education are different from those governing K-12 and so is the accommodation process. Students with disabilities who received accommodations in high school should be aware that colleges/universities do not necessarily provide the same accommodations set forth in their IEP or 504 Plan. What follows is an explanation of the differences between IDEA (governing K-12) and 504/ADA (governing post-secondary education)

High schools must:

  • Identify students with disabilities
  • Provide assessment of learning disabilities
  • Involve parents in decision-making
  • Provide non-academic services
  • Structure the student’s weekly schedule
  • Modify educational programs
  • Prepare Individual Education Plans (IEPs)
  • Provide a free and appropriate education
  • Help each student reach his/her potential

Post-secondary institutions must:

  • Protect the student’s right to privacy and confidentiality (this includes conversations with parents).
  • Provide access to programs and services that are offered to non-disabled students
  • Make information available to students regarding office locations and procedures for requesting accommodations
  • Evaluate documentation
  • Determine whether the student’s disability substantially limits the ability to read, write, learn, hear, speak, sleep, breathe, walk, or see

Substantially Limits means unable to perform a major life activity, or significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed, in comparison to the average person or most people. (Jane Jarrow, 1992)

  • Determine whether a student is otherwise qualified, with or without accommodations, and whether reasonable accommodations are possible
  • Provide reasonable accommodations. The university is only responsible for providing accommodations that allow the student to perform to the ability of the average person. This does not mean the average Lehigh University student
  • Provide reasonable and equal access to generally available programs
  • Make reasonable classroom adjustments that do not alter the integrity or essential components or technical standards of a course or program
  • Take care that off-campus facilities also comply with Section 504 and ADA
  • Inform students of their rights and responsibilities

Post-secondary institutions are not required to:

  • Reduce or waive the essential requirements of a course or program
  • Provide disability assessment
  • Provide personal attendants
  • Provide tutorial support beyond what is available to all students
  • Prepare IEPs
  • Ensure a student reaches his/her maximum potential
  • Keep parents informed

The student is responsible for:

  • Disclosing his/her disability to the appropriate office and providing documentation in a timely manner. The university has the right to establish its own documentation policy and timeline
  • Acting on his/her own behalf as independent adults. It is the student’s job to advocate for himself/herself, not the parent’s
  • Discussing classroom and testing accommodations with instructors in accordance with university policy
  • Arranging for personal attendants or specially designed assistive technologies

*Some of this material was borrowed from North Carolina State University’s Disability Services Office.

Important Things to Remember:

In high school, students with diagnosed disabilities are entitled to specific services and accommodations. In college, the severity and degree of functional impact of the disability is taken into consideration when determining whether accommodations are appropriate—a diagnosis alone does not determine eligibility. Also, these accommodations are intended to provide access, not ensure success.

Students who attend college are considered to be adults, protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). University staff cannot talk to parents about confidential information, including academic activities. Parents need to talk to the student directly. Students act as responsible adults when disclosing disabilities and requesting accommodations.

Documentation requirements are different at every school. It is the student’s responsibility to know and understand the university’s documentation policy and procedures. Documentation should be current, verify the disability, describe the extent/severity of the impairment, provide information on the functional impact of the disability, and offer university appropriate recommendations.

What is Self-Determination?

  • Self-Determination begins with the ability to identify and understand one’s needs, interests, strengths, limitations, and values.
  • Self-Advocacy refers to the ability to express one’s needs, wants, and rights in an assertive manner.
  • Self - Efficacy is commonly referred to as self-confidence - the expectation of achieving one's goal.
  • Decision - Making is the complex skill of setting goals and actions, identifying information to make decisions, and choosing the best option to implement one’s plan.
  • Independent Performance is one’s ability to self-assess one’s performance and determine when a goal or task has been satisfactorily completed.
  • Adjustment is the process of revising goals and plans to improve one’s performance or success.

Why Facilitate Self-Determination?

Because Self-determined Students:

  • Capitalize on their strengths and compensate for their weaknesses
  • Are proactive and experience less stress
  • Are persistent and focused on goals
  • Use support systems o Creatively problem solve

Why is Self-determination Important for Students in Post-Secondary Education?

Self-determination is a critical skill for success in higher education, because once students with disabilities graduate from high school, they are no longer entitled to the individual services detailed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In the post-secondary setting, people with disabilities must disclose their need for accommodation to the Office of Disability Services, which determines their eligibility for accommodations. Students with disabilities may need to explain their accommodations to others (professors, roommates), and advocate for accommodations not readily offered.

Furthermore, all of the elements of self-determination described above are essential skills for one to achieve any goal. Thus, a college student must believe that she can be successful, be able to make logical decisions, act independently, and evaluate and adjust their actions as necessary to meet their goals and objectives.

Parents’ Role Within the Self-Determination Model

  1. Listen. Be there to provide support and consultation, but give your son or daughter the space to figure it out on their own. Resist the urge to “take over” the problem.
  2. Encourage them to make connections. Direct your son or daughter to talk with the Office of Academic Support, their professors, their advisor, and other individuals who can assist them while at Lehigh.
  3. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Let them learn from their experiences.
  4. It’s a different world. Students live in a different world than when we were their age. They need to set their own goals and take ownership of their education.
  5. Working Together. The Office of Academic Support welcomes parents’ appropriate involvement. Recent studies suggest that active parental support fosters the development of self-determination. However:
    • Be aware that because of FERPA, post-secondary professionals cannot share information with parents without that student’s written permission.
    • Be mindful of “triangulation”. Direct and honest communication with your son or daughter is the most effective way to teach them responsibility.
  6. Trust the Process. Our role is to guide the students through this developmental process in order to become independent and responsible adults.