I was told that college is not a realistic option for my child with more significant intellectual disabilities.

For students with intellectual disabilities, low expectations have moved people toward other options without fully understanding the benefits that the college experience provides. Remember that the broad range of academic and social opportunities that postsecondary learning environments offer are determined by a student’s preferences, interests, and vision for the future.

How do I begin to involve my son or daughter as we begin to talk about learning after high school?

You can start by visiting a local community college with your son or daughter. Have lunch, go to a play or performance, buy a T-shirt at the bookstore, and visit the Disability Support Office, student center, or library. The staff may be interested in visiting your high school to encourage others to attend.

How is funding support for postsecondary options determined?

Funding depends on a student’s eligibility. For students with disabilities age 18 – 22 who have not received a state diploma, all funding would continue from their local education agency (LEA). In this case, special education supports would continue to be determined by the IEP process. While these students are enrolled in special education curriculum and accumulating credit, they are not matriculating toward a college credential. Students are, however, enjoying the benefits of being in an adult learning environment, auditing courses, taking other coursework, making friends, and feeling the rhythms of the college experience.

For students who have received a state diploma and ended their special education eligibility, they should check with their local vocational rehabilitation agency or other adult agency to determine their eligibility and funding support options.

Who should go with my child to pre-enrollment activities?

Who accompanies your son or daughter to pre-enrollment activities depends on the student’s primary funding source. If the student has not graduated and is still enrolled in special education, as part of the transition plan it could be a guidance counselor, a teacher, a transition coordinator, or other LEA staff member. If the student is a high school graduate, a VR counselor or another adult agency support person can accompany him or her.

How does a vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor or other adult agency person assist in this process?

For eligible students, this person can help the student identify a career goal and (with the help of an academic advisor) choose courses. He/she can work with the student to arrange for a tuition waiver or payment of fees. Also, with the student’s permission, the VR counselor can work with the Disability Support Office about documentation of the student’s disability. Finally, the counselor can assist the student in obtaining technology the student needs to gain access to course content, increase participation in class, and complete a course or program.

What role does the school district or Transition Coordinator play in this process?

The school team can help the student in learn to coordinate the services and supports he or she needs. They can also advocate effectively for the student’s needs in college. A school district can assist with any or all of the following: financial aid, registration, orientation, transportation, or tutoring. In addition, a Transition Coordinator can help students find employment or internships related to their course of study.

Which college courses would my son or daughter take?

Your child’s interests and/or career goals are the most important consideration in deciding which classes to take. If an instructor or academic advisor expresses concerns about your child’s current level of proficiency, he or she can enroll in courses that do not have a Math or English prerequisite. Also the instructor may be approached to allow the student in a particular class. Consider registering for “hands on” course that provide a more concrete understanding of the subject and encourage a variety of learning styles.

Are support services in college different from special education?

Although a variety of accommodations are provided at the postsecondary level, the college Disability Support Office requires students to submit need clear, current documentation of their disability to access services provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Students must also be able to self advocate for whatever supports they need. During high school, students should include critical transition goals in their IEP to prepare for this important next step.

Which accommodations are the students responsible for arranging?

Students are responsible for coordinating anything that is considered a "personal service." For example, hiring an educational coach or Personal Care Attendant (PCA) is the student's responsibility alone. However, the Disability Support Office (DSO) can help with finding a tutor. We recommend asking someone from the DSO ahead of time about the type specific assistance they can provide.

My child has difficulty communicating due to significant intellectual disabilities. Can I call the college to request progress reports? How can I be involved with my child’s educational decisions while he or she is in college?

For all college students, record-keeping responsibility lies with the individuals themselves. Privacy laws prohibit the college from discussing anything about a student without that student’s permission. Although specific personnel can help students arrange the supports they will need, (See #5, #6) self-advocacy skills are critical and should be addressed during high school in preparation for transition.

Who pays for college?

The first step in determining postsecondary education funding is to deciding what parents and the student can afford and then determining if additional revenue sources are needed. Various cost-share methods can be employed to pay for college courses. Often, student with intellectual disabilities rely on a combination of in-kind support and direct payment for services and supports, which varies with each student’s needs. The state VR agency can provide a tuition waiver to state colleges, and the state developmental services agency can offer flexible funding to pay for student's fees. Typically, if the student is still receiving special education services, the Local Education Agency (LEA) will pay for transportation (if needed) and educational coaches; Vocational Rehabilitation might pay for technology or tuition; Disability Support Offices provide tutoring or other academic accommodations, developmental services agencies might pay for fees, and the One-stop Career Centers would provide career preparation services (for example, resume writing, job interviewing, internships, and so on). Collaboration with all available resources is key.

Adapted from Frequently Asked Questions, Federation for Children with Special Needs, www.fcsn.org.