Lauren Agoratus M.A. Counseling is the parent of a child with multiple disabilities. She is the State Coordinator of Family Voices NJ, the national network that “works to keep families at the center of children’s health care.” She also serves as the Central/Southern Coordinator for the NJ Family-to-Family Health Information Center. These are both housed at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), www.spanadvocacy.org.
Many students are surprised that the college experience is so different from high school in terms of specialized services. In college, there is no more IEP (Individualized Educational Program) or related services. Unlike special education in high school, where all of the teachers should be aware of the student’s disability, college professors are generally unaware of the disability unless the student chooses to disclose it to them. The services needed for an appropriate education in college are not entitlement-like services under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). However, there are things that students and their families can do to have a successful experience in college.
Although post-secondary schools do not have IDEA protections, they must follow Title II of the American with Disabilities Act and, if they receive federal dollars, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This means they have to provide reasonable accommodations. If a school receives federal funds, they must have a place where students with disabilities can get assistance in accessing accommodations. This place is usually called the Office of Disability Supports or Office for Students with Disabilities.
Students can visit the Office of Disability Supports to discuss accommodations needed such as note taking, extra time, distraction-free testing, use of calculators, etc. It is important to know that it is illegal for colleges to ask prospective students if they have a disability; students can decide not to disclose. However, if the students choose not to disclose their autism, then they will not be able to receive the accommodations that can help them succeed.
Did you know? Some Offices of Disability Supports require annual registration, so it’s a good idea to take some time over the summer to prepare for the next academic year, especially if you need to request accommodations that may take a few weeks or months for the college to secure.
There are many ways students can access resources that will help them be successful in college. There are Centers for Independent Living in every state, which help students learn independent living skills and self-advocacy. The student can decide if they’ll need accommodations and if they want to disclose their disability to the college. They can also check out the great resources on thinkcollege.net, which lists schools that may be more welcoming to students with disabilities and has a wealth of information and resources on the college selection and enrollment process.
Students with autism can participate in post-secondary education. By setting up for success looking at future goals, preparation, time management, and self-advocacy, some students with autism may decide that they want to attend college. Once they look at what is available at schools and decide on the accommodations they need if any, students on the spectrum can have a successful college experience.
Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know your disability rights and responsibilities for postsecondary education.
Students can find a local “Center for Independent Living” by searching organizations by state and address. These are nonresidential organizations that help people with disabilities to live independently at home and in their communities.