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Raising a Successful College Graduate – For Parents of Special Needs Children
Children with special needs experienced more frustration and academic failure than most other children. However, some of them become successful college students who graduate with a major in a chosen field.
Sadly, most don’t. Only about 57% of students with disabilities graduate from high school and only about 10-15% of those who graduate go to college.
What are some reasons why students are successful in college? How can parents help their child be among those who accomplish this challenging feat?
Parental expectations are a key factor
Children who have grown up believing that they have what it takes to succeed at the college of their choice have a big advantage if they wish to pursue college education! They prepare their whole life for the college experience. During their school years they make important decisions that lay the foundation for college success.
Students who believe they are successful in college study harder, have higher grades, and seek guidance from mentors who can guide them to develop strong skills. They “play full steam ahead” in school, taking challenging classes and honing their academic skills.
The kind of mentorship children receive from their parents is the genesis of the beliefs and personal coping habits that ensure success in college. Parents lay the foundations for academic success from the moment their child is born. Parents who mentor and support their children throughout their lives to believe in their innate intelligence and abilities encourage the kind of decisions that good students face every day as they pursue their path through the enormous array of facts, procedures, skills and habits that support the ultimate academic literacy acquisition.
When being coached to know that they will be successful, a student develops personal attributes that support success. Research from the Frostig Center in Pasadena, California provides some insight into these qualities.
Personal qualities that support academic success
Students who have the following personal qualities are much more likely to thrive in college. You can read more detailed descriptions of the qualities that ensure college success here.
• Self-awareness and self-acceptance
• Proactivity versus reactivity
• Ability to set short and long term goals
• Use of effective support systems
• Strong emotional coping strategies
Taking specific actions increases your likelihood of success in college
Students need to be aware of the specific actions they should take to increase their likelihood of being admitted to and graduating from the college of their choice.
Ideally, parents and children should begin taking specific actions when the student reaches eighth grade. For the student, this involves taking the most challenging classes available while maintaining excellent grades and a great attitude towards academics. Completing extra or optional assignments in classes to broaden one’s knowledge and pursuing activities the student is passionate about such as sports, art and/or volunteering experiences builds the self-confidence, proactive mindset and time management skills that characterize student success.
Parents should encourage their children to learn from successful adults who are rich sources of information about the nature of their careers, the education they have completed, and the strategies they use to be successful. Family friends, teachers, coaches, and neighbors are valuable allies to a student eager to learn about the kind of opportunities available to them as adults.
Students are expected to explore the world of work through paid jobs, internships and volunteering. They will learn about the working conditions of specific jobs, develop the perseverance needed to engage in a demanding undertaking, and learn valuable interpersonal skills such as cooperation and functioning in an environment that requires meeting high expectations.
Students need to take a proactive role in their school career. They should learn to communicate their strengths and needs to adults. They should attend their IEP meetings and defend on their own behalf.
Students who qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are eligible to receive support services to help them transition from high school to postsecondary pursuits. These services may include courses, related services, community experiences, development of outcome-oriented occupational and/or life goals for adults in their IEPs, and an assessment of functional living skills, when warranted.
Beginning when the student is 14, the IEP team should consider services designed to ease the student’s transition to adult life. At age 16, the IEP team is expected to include outcome-oriented goals, paired with a student’s post-secondary goals, that provide support for transitioning to adult life.
Parents should work with their school’s special education coordinator to determine the range of services available and express their views on the services and experiences they would like to offer their children.
Students who are eligible to receive special education services are legally eligible to receive a Summary of Performance (SOP) during their senior year of high school. The school district is required by federal law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004) to provide high school seniors graduating with a regular diploma a summary of their academic achievements and functional performance. This information will be used by colleges as a basis for determining a student’s housing.
The school district may use its own format to document a student’s strengths and needs. It is very beneficial for a parent to have a model that illustrates what kind of information a complete SOP should contain. It is beneficial to have a history of specific accommodations that have been provided in the high school and include them in the SOP. Parents can download a copy prepared by a national coalition of disability rights organizations here.
Only a small percentage of students with special educational needs go to college, but parents have the opportunity to ensure that their child is a successful one. The most valuable step parents can take is to mentor their children to believe in their intelligence and talents and know in their hearts that they can meet the challenge of getting a college education. This belief supports the effective actions parents and students take throughout their school careers to secure a college degree.
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