The following question was received during the LD@school webinar, The Road Ahead – The undergraduate learning experience for students with LDs; click here to view the webinar recording.
Answered by Sarah Terreberry, Ph.D., course instructor Brock University
Q: What is the best advice that educators can pass onto parents and students who are preparing for the transition to post-secondary education?
A: The transition from secondary school to post-secondary settings can present a variety of challenges for students with LD. Research suggests that students with LD transitioning to post-secondary environments often face a variety of academic, social, and emotional challenges as they navigate changes and differences between the secondary and post-secondary settings. Academically, at the post-secondary level, students may face issues related to the difficulty with the amount or level of work, organizational problems, and/or difficulty with time management and/or task focus. Socially, students may face issues related to communicating their needs to others or advocating for themselves. They may also experience issues with using interpersonal skills and interacting with others-- especially their peers and instructors as they transition to a new learning context. Emotionally, students may face issues related to low self-esteem and they may experience issues related to anxiety, stress, and/or mental health-related challenges because of the transition on its own or because of their LD more specifically.
There are a number of things that teachers, parents and students can do at the end of high school to help ease the transition to post-secondary learning:
- Research the Options. Research the different post-secondary settings the student is considering. Knowledge is power—feeling knowledgeable about the many options will help to ease some of the stress around the transition. Have students consider what they like about each setting, and what they dislike about each setting. Help the student to determine what accessibility services the different settings offer. Also, make sure to research what each setting requires for students to be able to access support (e.g. documentation of disability)—this may not be the same for every school. If the student doesn’t have formal, up-to-date documentation, they will need to obtain this ahead of time. Remember that this can take some time, so it’s really important to start preparing for this as soon as possible.
The transition resource guide, created by the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC), is a great place to start your research. RARC provides accurate and comprehensive assessments and follow-up services to post-secondary students with Learning Disabilities, ADHD, and ASD. Click here to visit the transition resource guide.
- Get Familiar with the Support Procedures. Once the student is accepted into a school, and a choice has been made about which setting to attend, re-familiarize yourselves with the support procedures. Make sure the student understands how the support procedures at the school work, who helps to coordinate these, and how they are implemented at the classroom level. At the secondary level, most of these supports come directly from the teacher—but at the post-secondary level, these typically come from the Support Services office and this office also regulates and monitors how these are provided in the classroom. Students need to know ahead of time how this process works and where to seek help when needed.
- Know your Rights and Responsibilities. At the secondary level, supports are often automatically provided based on need. At the post-secondary level though, these need to be requested, and there can be a bit of a lengthy process in getting these in place. Students need to know that they play an active role in securing appropriate support and determining what this might look like—if they don’t ask for support through Support Services, it likely won’t be provided at the classroom level. Students should also be aware of what the legal responsibilities of others are here in providing support and where to seek assistance with this if needed.
- Build Self-Advocacy Skills. At the post-secondary level, support is often dependent on students’ abilities to voice their needs, so the ability to self-advocate is critical at this level. Some of the ways that we can help to build these skills at home and at school include fostering greater forms of independence; providing opportunities for students to voice their opinions and advocate for their needs; and practicing/talking about scenarios that students may likely encounter at the post-secondary level using strategies like role-playing or fictional cases/scenarios.
To learn more about building self-advocacy skills, click here to access our Learning Module Fostering Advocacy for Students with LDs
- Strengthen Learning Skills and Strategies. Learning skills and strategies (e.g. organization, time management, effective study skills, maintaining focus) are taught at school, but often aren’t reinforced in an explicit manner. Teachers and parents can help to reinforce the use of these strategies through explicit instruction, by modelling what the strategy looks like, and by making connections to how the strategy could be applied in different scenarios. Practice and application to different contexts is key here for strategy-use to become more automatic.
- Prepare for the Social Implications. The transition to post-secondary learning involves more than academic preparation. We also need to consider the social and emotional realms of the experience as well. Many students in this transition may be fearful of meeting new friends, working with other students in class-based groupwork, socializing outside of classes, and/or fitting in with the larger crowd. Many students may also be worried about stigmatization and being seen as “different”. It’s important to help prepare students for different social scenarios they will be faced with at this level by talking to students about what the transition is going to look like, how their schooling is going to be different, and what their feelings are about these changes. Working on social skills and social skill development, effective communication, and interpersonal skills is also important here.
LD@school has created a checklist to guide your discussion with students with LDs as they prepare for the transition to post-secondary. Click here to access the Post-Secondary Transition Planning Checklist.
Overall, there are many considerations that need to be given in helping to prepare students with LD for a successful transition to post-secondary learning. The strategies noted above can serve as a starting point for thinking about how to approach your preparation efforts—whether you’re a teacher of a student with LD, a parent of a child with LD, or an individual with LD who is entering this transition.
The last piece of advice I would have would be to look into what transition programming that the post-secondary setting offers and take advantage of this if it's available. Transition programs provide an excellent way for students to become familiar with the university culture and they also allow for the opportunity to get to know other students, staff, and faculty. Some post-secondary settings even offer transition programs that are unique to students with LD and/or other disabilities—they provide an introduction to different support services that are available, and they provide students with different skill-based workshops that will help to prepare them for success at the post-secondary level. For many students, these programs serve as a helpful starting point to their first year of post-secondary learning.
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Wagner, M., Newman, L., & Cameto, R. (2004). Changes over time in the secondary school experiences of students with disabilities. A report of findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) and the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.