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Parents: Get ready to hand over the reins to your student

How to support your student's transition to independence and self-advocacy as they prepare for college.

By: College Success @ Perkins

Handing over roles and responsibilities to your student is a process! It’s best to start as early as you can and engage your student in conversations so that you can both begin to understand how things change once the student is in college, and so that you can both start to develop skills to manage this process constructively. In that spirit, we have outlined some suggestion to support parents in handing the reins to their student.

1. Learn together

Once you and your student understand the implications of the differences between the IDEA and the ADA, your student can begin to think about what accommodations they’ll need in their daily college experience and what they want to request from the Disability Services Office (DSOs). For example, if they have always had a paraprofessional or TVI present prepared braille or digital/auditory versions of their texts, plan to get them to learn the process of requesting these documents themselves, via thoughtful IEP goals. Your student will be in charge of this step after high school. Defining their preferred learning and reading mediums, including backup options, will help students better advocate with their DSO in the future.  And, remember, there will be no course modifications in college.  Deadlines are set; output (length of papers, group work, online work, etc.) is assumed the same for all students.  This can be a huge leap for some students. 

Ask your student’s team what the current reality is for your student. Consider advocating, as appropriate, to reduce and eliminate modifications, and to hold your student accountable for deadlines, and to appropriately reflect grade consequences for late assignments.  It’s important to note here that if your student demonstrates that they are struggling to integrate these increasingly complex demands – time management, project management, output (typing, reading speed), stress management – you may need to explore the source of these difficulties, possibly beyond vision impairment and its challenges. Your student’s struggle may give you both some important input about their readiness to tackle a full course load (generally 3-5 courses per semester) in “traditional” college, independently. 

2. Create an ongoing list of possible accommodations 

Help your student create a list of the accommodations they’ll need in the classroom, dorm room, if planning to live on campus, and around campus, such as in a dining hall or cafe. Their TVI and O&M instructor may be a great help, as well. Then, encourage your student to begin to practice requesting these accommodations, even in high school. If they’re really nervous, try role playing with them and help them ask their TVI to support these real-life applications as well. With their list handy, nudge them to get on the phone and contact a few DSOs to ask them questions, interview them and find out the college’s experience in supporting accommodations for students with your student’s type of visual impairments. This research will allow your son or daughter to experience describing their visual impairment to an adult who does not know them. It may allow your student to begin to picture themselves on campus, advocating for their own needs, and being in control of their own learning. Remember, there’s no one “best college” for students learning with vision impairments.  Once your student begins to understand the differences between high school and college, their college matches should first align with student academic profiles, academic interests and goals, and then, an assessment of the experience a particular DSO has in supporting students with visual impairments.

3. Practice stepping back while your student self advocates

The skill of self-advocacy and self-determination requires a lot of practice and self-awareness. It’s a skill that your student will need throughout life and it’s a skill that, when mastered, can yield access, independence and self-respect. 

High school provides countless opportunities to practice self-advocacy: 

Self-advocacy is a skill that your student will need throughout life, and when mastered, can yield access, independence and self-respect.

The DSO will require that your student (not you!) explain their disability and know their preferences for materials, lectures, and other issues. They will also require documentation of the vision impairment. Because vision impairment is a low-incidence disability and DSOs are often not fluent in accommodations for the visually impaired. Students will likely need to consistently push for the accessible materials and accommodations they need. For these reasons, college is not the time to learn new access skills. For example, your student will be expected to have the same technology skills and experience with academic reading and writing as their typically sighted counterparts. Be sure your student is prepared with effective, efficient typing and laptop skills during high school. 

In some cases, our students may be struggling to accept their vision loss, which may make some of these steps hard. They may not be ready.  This may be an opportunity for you to help them connect with others learning and living with vision loss through enrichment programs during school breaks or over the summer, through Perkins’ Compass Program, or via the many wonderful blogs out there. Many of our students are the only ones in their school working through vision loss; it may be hard for them to imagine how others accomplish independent lives while blind or low vision. Look to your VR counselor or Transition Counselor who may be able to help you identify groups and programs that could help your student on their journey to acceptance and independence.  

Concluding thoughts

The IDEA and the ADA provide critical protections and as your student leaves high school, they will need to be ready to assume new responsibilities and agency, practicing long before high school graduation. Stepping back as a parent or guardian is difficult, yet essential, as your student enters the world, which will assume that they are skilled as an independent, young adult. Whenever there are opportunities for your student to build up their independence and self-advocacy, there are rewards in self-esteem and self-knowledge waiting for them on the other side. These experiences make way for better-informed decisions about their future, based on authentic experiences, and deeper understanding of their likes and dislikes. 

As the parent, you get a front row seat to this exciting transition. You get to witness, first hand, as your son or daughter gradually takes on new responsibilities and in turn, takes control of his or her education and future. By being their partner in this, sharing the ways you advocated for them in their elementary and secondary educational environments, and how you are adjusting as they get older, your student can feel prepared to take the reins in their college experience. 

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