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Tech Preparation: New Challenges and Opportunities for College-bound Teens With LD and/or AD/HD

Help your teen with learning disabilities and/or AD/HD gain the essential tech skills he'll need to succeed in college.

By Loring Brinckerhoff, Ph.D. , Manju Banerjee, M.A.,M.S.

If you and your teenager are considering college, you'll want to be aware that the postsecondary education landscape has undergone a technological revolution in recent years. Until a few years ago, basic computer knowledge such as word processing and Internet exploration were the only technological skills necessary for students transitioning into college. Today, colleges and universities require students to be proficient in much more than basic computer skills. Nearly all colleges have electronic catalogues in their libraries, Internet-equipped study stations, Ethernet access in the dorms, and offer college courses online. Laptop computers have become not only commonplace but also an essential admissions requirement for freshmen entering many colleges.

An awareness of the ways in which technology has transformed and reshaped postsecondary education is important for a successful college experience for all students, but is especially relevant for students with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). Traditionally, assistive technologies such as audio books, talking calculators, and portable word processors have been part of the solution for students with LD. Today's students, however, may require additional technological skills and support. This article will highlight some of the changes on the tech horizon with the hope that high school students with LD and/or AD/HD will learn these tech survival skills in a supportive environment before entering college so they will be better prepared for learning both online and offline.

Educational Technology in Today's Colleges

Educational technologies can be broadly defined as information and communication technologies used to manage, inform, instruct, and communicate in higher education. While educational technologies can support and accommodate students with LD, they may pose unforeseen obstacles for some students. Special education administrators, general and special education teachers, and parents need to be alert to these hurdles and be sure that the Individual Education Plan (IEP) for a college-bound teen includes objectives for both assistive technology and mainstream educational technologies. For example, a student who has significant problems with written expression may benefit from learning how to use assistive tech tools such as Dragon Dictate, a text-to-speech software program. Students also need to be fluent with mainstream technologies such as Web CT, a tool commonly used by faculty for presenting a course syllabus, handouts, and assigned readings online.

Tech-enhanced learning environments are not a replication of the traditional classroom experience in a different setting. Rather they represent a different learning environment which requires both students and teachers to adapt to a new mode of instruction, communication, and evaluation. Rose & Meyers (2002) point out that the digitization of information allows students to customize the information they are learning, and provides multiple ways of engagement and multiple means of representation of course content. Although this sounds exciting, in order to be successful, students with LD and AD/HD must have the skills necessary to make informed choices among the vast alternatives that technology makes possible.