When my son Cody was born, my husband and I had no idea that he was different from our three other children; he was a happy baby and easy to please. He would sit for hours playing with his blocks, but rarely interacted with his siblings. I assumed he was deep in thought, especially when it took several minutes for me to get his attention. At one point, I even took him for a physical to see if he had a hearing problem, but he passed with flying colors. I have to admit that part of me was peeved. Was he simply ignoring me?
As kindergarten drew closer, I began to worry about my son’s ability to fit in and communicate with others. Over time, he had developed his own language that I was able to decipher, but others found frustrating. Secretly, I hoped it was simply a phase, but it soon became very obvious that something was not quite right. During his first two years of elementary school, I was called into the office nearly every week. His teachers were convinced that he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because he was unable to focus in class and was prone to loud outbursts; this seemed so out of character for him. At home, he was quiet and sat in one place for hours. Unconvinced that my son should be placed on medication, I began to scour the Internet for answers. I soon stumbled upon an article about Asperger’s syndrome. To my surprise, Cody exhibited every symptom listed. I immediately contacted his pediatrician, who referred us to a clinic for formal testing. After days of various academic tests and skills assessments, we patiently waited for the results. The day I received his formal diagnosis changed my life forever. My son did not have Asperger’s; he was autistic.
Since that day in 2007, I have become a champion for my son. I refused to accept the psychologist’s prognosis that he would never have an IQ above 88 and that we should consider placing him in a school with other children with similar learning disabilities (LD). Instead, I kept him in the same school his siblings had attended and worked with the administrators to provide him with additional resources, such as speech therapy and writing labs. I met with his teachers and explained Cody’s sensory issues. A few simple adjustments, such as placing him at the back of the line and adding a short divider screen to his desk, eliminated the outbursts.
Cody began to flourish at his school and even made the honor roll several times. Over the past two years, he has been recognized as “Student of the Month’ three times. He is a polite and caring boy who always sees the best in people. Six years ago, I was concerned that my son would never make it to his high school graduation. Now, I am actually looking into the possibility of him attending college someday.
Although he has a wealth of free resources available to him while he is in secondary school, I know that making the transition to college is not going to be easy. Most colleges do not spend a lot of time or money providing resources to those with special needs, but there are a few that go above and beyond. Cody won’t be leaving for college any time soon, but I have already identified several potential campuses. Here are five colleges that make the grade when it comes to serving students with special needs.
Located in Leesburg, Florida, this college is exclusively for students with learning disabilities. Many of the available degree programs are well suited to autistic students, focusing on their skills in math and technology. The college offers a safe and supportive environment where students can explore clubs and organizations, get involved with community service activities, and learn to live on their own. Class sizes are small (typically 12 students) and they boast a four-year graduation rate of 77 percent. There’s even a fraternity on campus.
The University of Arizona’s Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center is one of the most comprehensive programs for learning disabled students in the country. Their services include: individualized learning plans, tutoring, development seminars (math, writing and science), counseling, assistive technologies, and social programs. A variety of scholarships are available and they recently launched a pre-college summer program for students in the 10th through 12th grade.
Located in Milton, Massachusetts, Curry College offers the internationally recognized Program for Advancement of Learning, otherwise known as PAL. PAL assists students with specific language-based learning disabilities, executive function disorders, and/or ADHD. Students participate in regular college classes, but receive assistance with reading comprehension, written language, speaking, listening, organization, and time management. The school also offers a summer program and one-week program for high school seniors.
Augsburg College provides one-on-one assistance for learning and physically disabled students through its CLASS program. The faculty works with students to ensure they receive appropriate accommodations, such as extended time for exams, electronic textbooks, assistive technology, and other resources, as needed. Students receive help developing time management and organizational skills, instruction in learning strategies, and academic advising. Best of all, these resources are provided at no extra cost.
Students with learning disabilities, who are accepted to the University of Connecticut, may be able to participate in the BOLD (Building Opportunities for students with Learning Disabilities) program. Those in BOLD have the opportunity to meet weekly with a trained strategy instructor, who will help them receive the necessary accommodations and create goals for future success. Since BOLD goes above and beyond what is mandated by the legislation, UConn charges a $1,700 per semester fee for those enrolled in the program.
Unlike grade school, where teachers and administrators are happy to help, students must be their own advocates in college. It’s important that they know their rights and what is available to them.
To learn more, please contact:
Customer Service Team
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Education
Washington, D.C. 20202-1100
TDD: 1- 877-521-2172
Web site: www.ed.gov/ocr
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