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By Loring Brinckerhoff, Ph.D.
As students scan webpages looking for institutions of higher education, they should make a list of the schools that are the most interesting in terms of location, level of competition, and curriculum offerings. Students should be advised to choose the college first, and the learning support, second. Typically, this is not done, and parents initially shop for the "LD services" that they have heard about, and don't consider whether or not the institution is really the best fit for their son or daughter given the course offerings, curriculum, and faculty/student ratio. After a student has identified 6 to 8 institutions that are at the appropriate level of competitiveness (selective, highly selective, most selective) based on the popular college guides, she should think carefully about the level of LD support services she may need in college. By cross matching the institution with the level of support services necessary, she can generate a list of 3 or 4 schools to investigate fully. Further consultation with some of the LD-specific college guides can be helpful as well. Once the list is narrowed down, the student and her parents should plan to visit a campus, take a walking tour, sit-in on a class, and visit a dormitory room, computer lab, and library. A student with LD who presents herself better orally than in writing, should consider scheduling an interview with the admissions office and with the LD support service office. If the institution she is considering has a highly-rated LD support services office, there should be no harm in disclosing the disability in the interview. If, however, the school does not have strong services for students with learning disabilities, it might be better not to discuss the learning disability or AD/HD openly at this early stage of the application process.
Campus support services for students with LD vary from one institution to the next. Various support models exist and run the gamut from very basic services to comprehensive programs. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), each college and university must provide a minimal level of support to students with LD and AD/HD - at no cost - to ensure that "reasonable accommodations" are available (e.g., textbooks in an audio format, note takers, additional time on examinations, provision for course substitutions, reduced course load). The most loosely defined, or basic, services are those where there is a disability contact person on campus who typically wears many hats. He may have some limited training in disability matters, but may in fact be an attorney, counselor, or nurse. These generic support services are available to ensure equal educational opportunity for any student with a disability but little more. This individual typically consults with other offices on campus, like the writing lab or tutorial program, to support students who are considered to be "at risk." More and more campuses are hiring at least one individual to serve as the designated point person for all disability matters. It is simply too complex a job to have the responsibilities for students with disabilities fragmented across several staff members.
An example of a one-person operation, with a wide range of support services, is Babson College, in Wellesley, MA. Babson is a campus with 1,600 undergraduates, 14 miles west of Boston. Approximately 70 registered undergraduate students were served by the Students with Disabilities office during the 2002-2003 school year. The program includes one full-time staff member. Remediation and support is provided one-on-one in small groups and in class-size groups for study skills and time management. Programs for college survival skills, medication management, and written composition skills are provided through on-campus or off-campus services. Faculty members are notified by the coordinator of the Students with Disabilities Office regarding all accommodation needs. For admission to the program, students are required to submit a psychoeducational report. The application deadline to the LD program is rolling/continuous.
Other colleges that offer similar basic LD support services: Clark University; The College of William & Mary; Mount Holyoke College; and San Diego State University.
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