Late summer is a busy time for all prospective first year students as they get ready to make the transition to university. Planning is always an important part of this process, and for students with disabilities this is especially true.
Typically, the most successful students with disabilities transitioning to university are the ones who can be strong self-advocates, who are able to seek out required services and support, and who can manage the multiple demands of being independent.
Students have a range of disabilities, some of which are invisible, for example learning disabilities and, increasingly, mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression. Students with an ASD are also attending university in greater numbers than a decade ago. Many of these students received special education support during their school years.
At university, support for students with disabilities is widely available. It is important to note that it is the student’s choice to request and use services at university. However, students do need to discuss their requirements with the disability service in order for the university to be able to provide support – though more inclusive teaching practices are being implemented to mitigate this.
There are several things students can do to get ready for university life. Each student has unique needs, but in general students and their families should:
- Learn more about the student’s disability and unique needs. The student should understand their own strengths, preferences and weaknesses, know how to advocate for, use and adjust learning strategies that work for them, and make decisions independently.
- Learn about the various types of support available. Students and families can work with individual teachers and staff members to request and set these up. Learning which adjustments are really necessary is an important skill to have at university and later in the workplace.
- Play an active role in the development of the student’s individual support plan. Students should be included in this process as early as is appropriate and to the greatest extent possible, based on the student’s skills.
- Consider what the student can do themselves to adapt their learning methods. Modifications to instruction, tests or marking might well be possible, but looking into various adapted learning strategies will also help.
- Work on time management skills. Time at university is much less structured than at senior school. The increased independence can provide many opportunities for students but also challenges. As early as possible, students need to learn to manage their time productively and independently.
This list is far from exhaustive, but by learning about what is available, working closely with disability support services and participating in the development of their learning plan, students with disabilities can access the reasonable adjustments they need to be able to perform to the best of their ability in HE.