Neurodiversity: Preparing for College

Neurodiversity kids in college

The Jump (Highschool to College)

There are so many concerns for all parents regarding their child transitioning from high school to college. Parents of students with disabilities may especially wonder how their child will keep up with an increased workload. College could be the perfect storm of increased freedom, lack of supervision, and many new demands. Parents know how much support they give their children, and wondering where that support might come from once they leave home is worrying.

Fostering independence in our neurodiverse children is crucial. Even if that means finding support or communicating with existing support independently. This could start in high school by having children handle as much responsibility as possible. For example, if a child is seeing a tutor and they are capable of texting or calling, then the parent needs to facilitate their child's independence and have the child set up appointments or communicate with the tutor. This is not about removing help that could be critical but rather about teaching a child to access resources. In most colleges, there are a lot of resources available, but colleges generally do not check in with students weekly unless the student has made appointments. Colleges do not check in with professors on behalf of students or constantly monitor grades. If a student is not doing well, it could be rare for professors to say, “Hey, come see me after class.” That's the self-advocacy piece that's so important. Students should go to office hours, email, ask questions, and set up appointments. Growing these skills and helping our neurodiverse children understand themselves and what they might need is an ongoing journey that starts at an early age.

Preparing for the loss of certain accommodations is important. Some students in high school might have accommodations that allow them to retake tests or have extended deadlines. Understanding college expectations, working on time management tactics early on, and finding helpful resources before college could help prepare students for success. Assignment calculators/planners are a great way to help manage time. With a quick Google search (I like the University of Toronto’s), several assignment calculators are available for students to use. Plug in a start date, due date, and type of assignment, and it can help you plan the steps needed to complete the assignment in a thorough and timely manner. University libraries have many resources, including writing centers, proofreading, and online resources like audiobooks and assignment planners.

Finding a Neurodivergent-Friendly College 

Colleges especially known to have a space for neurodiverse young adults can make all the difference by providing accommodations, resources, and a sense of community. These colleges are on the rise; now, about 80 colleges in the US provide tailored accommodations unique to the Neurodiverse community. The University of Buffalo hopes to hold on to neurodiverse students in the stem field by training faculty members, providing specialized support in the classroom, and amending the curriculum. Landmark University’s whole campus has been designed with the neurodiverse population in mind. There is open access to therapy dogs, sports teams, and courses on advocacy. Centers for neurodiversity are opening up on several college campuses that offer an array of events and social gatherings. These could also be great resources for internship opportunities. In the autism realm, Aurora University will be introducing the Betty Parke Tucker Center for Neurodiversity. The Center houses several pathway programs to prepare high school students and incoming AU students with autism for college life. Similarly, Marquette's On Your Marq program provides academic, social, independent living, and mental health support to students with autism. Students can get peer mentorship, career development, tutoring, and one-on-one coaching.

Finding the right fit for yourself or your child can be a job. Speaking to each college, asking questions, finding online and community resources, and visiting schools could help you find the right fit. It's important to remember that despite community support and accommodations, research shows that many neurodivergent students do not ask for the help they need. Reinforcing self-advocacy skills and a positive learning environment is the best pathway to success.

References and Resources:

What does Intellectual Capacity mean to us?
Creativity in Children with ADHD