Can you tell us a bit about your history and personal experience helping students with learning disabilities at the National Center for Learning Disabilities?
I have lectured around the country on postsecondary options and summer programs for children and young adults with learning and attention issues. I have co-founded and served for 20 years as dean of the Vocational Independence Program at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). I have also co-founded Introduction to Independence, a summer work-study program at NYIT, and Vista, a vocational and life skills center in Westbrook, Connecticut.
I am a former principal of the Riverside School, have served as executive director of the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, and was the head of guidance at the Churchill School and Center. My wife and I run B&R Resources, an educational consulting company.
What are some common misconceptions about learning disabilities and higher education?
Some of the most common misconceptions about learning disabilities and higher education are that colleges are not open to accepting applicants with learning disabilities. There is a fear that support personnel are not interested in providing assistance to students with learning disabilities. Due to the stigma of having a learning disability, many students are afraid that if they apply for accommodations, everyone on campus will know they have a disability. That is simply not true.
What do you tell students who don't believe they can attend college because of a learning disability?
First, I tell them that their learning and attention issues will not keep them from attending college. I continue by telling them about colleges that have special programs for students with LD and quote statistics for the number of LD students in colleges. As someone with significant LD and attention challenges, who was told in high school that I would never go to college, I share my experiences in college, graduate school, and as a college dean. I share the strategies I used to make Dean's List and graduate. I also share with them the names of famous and successful people with LD that have made it through college and remind the students of success that they have already had in school settings, work experiences, and summer programs. I remind them not to let ego get in the way of selecting a college that is right for them.
What are the most important attributes or characteristics a student with learning disabilities should consider when selecting a university experience and why?
They should start by looking into the level of support available at the university. Students should also consider whether they think they are really ready to be away from home. If not, look at schools where you can be a commuter student. Are there specific people at home who provide you with resources that you must have access to? Other important characteristics to consider are the size of classes and the level of comfort with head of disability services.
If you could give one piece of advice to students with a learning disability applying to college, what would it be?
Before applying, consider whether you can get accepted, complete the full curriculum, and have something of value when you do.
Many colleges have systems in place within their institutions that are not necessarily created with students who have disabilities in mind. How can students and faculty and administrators work to create more supportive spaces and systems for these students?
Students should evaluate the position of the administration to welcome and support these types of students. Faculty and administrators can start by listening to the students and evaluating their success and failures. Ask them what they feel they need to succeed. Tracking LD students throughout their years at the college can also be a great way to measure success and where changes need to be made.
Do you have advice for students on how to discuss their learning disability with academic advisers and faculty?
Be positive. Don't blame the professor but ask for input and strategies they might suggest so that you can remember and retrieve the important information they are presenting. Try to set up a private time to speak with your professors when no other students are around. Always go to the disability office for advice and support. Come prepared to talk about strategies and supports that have worked for you in the past. It is important that you are comfortable with your challenges if you want others to be.
Are there any issues that the students you work with commonly experience once they start college? Things they weren't prepared for? Things their peers didn't seem to be experiencing?
Many students who are away from home for the first time are homesick and don't realize that it happens to everyone. Students often feel the need to make friends and have dates immediately. Anxiety also takes over when students look at the the total amount of work they have to do in their classes, instead of just doing one assignment at a time.
How do you suggest a student addresses stigmas that may be associated with learning disabilities on a college campus? Where can students seek help/advice if an issue does arise?
Talk to the appropriate resources, such as disability resources. Create a chart of who you can talk to about your different concerns. Take pride in your accomplishments in spite of your challenges and associate with students who share your interests and talents.
Where do you recommend students with learning disabilities, and their support systems, turn for resources and guidance as they begin to plan for their education?
I recommend that they turn to high school guidance counselors, outside professional consultants, college advisors, and disability office personnel.
Jim ReinFounding Expert at Understood
Jim Rein is a founding expert at Understood, an organization that helps millions of parents whose children are struggling with learning and attention issues. He is also Dean of the Vocational Independence Program at New York Institute of Technology, a residential, college-based postsecondary transition program located in Old Westbury, New York, for young adults with learning differences and autism spectrum diagnoses.