Parents often ask me questions about how they can best support their child with what they’re learning. Many feel they aren’t doing enough, or aren’t doing the right thing, to help their child succeed. I see a lot of these questions more than once, so I’ve decided to collect them and post them here for other parents to read, in case that advice is helpful.
All my advice is based on my own experience from almost 10 years of working with students with learning differences, and on my M.Ed. training at Villanova University.
I heard [my son] just called you and is very upset. His request for an extension for the project was denied. I’m fed up with his professor, this is the same one that didn’t authorize extra time on the midterm. But at the same time, I know [my son] didn’t turn in the accommodation paperwork on time for that one. I feel like he’s annoyed with [my son] asking instead of being supportive.
Next time you meet, can you please talk with [my son] about how important it is for him to ask for accommodations on time? And turn in the right paperwork? I don’t want this to happen again.
Yeah, we just spoke earlier about the extension and strategized a little on how we’re going to get it done in time. He’s really frustrated, so it’s going to be hard for him to focus, but he does need to get started right away. His anxiety about this project is making it hard for him to think about anything else, and ironically making it harder to actually sit down and do it. I’d estimate he has about 4-5 hours left if he really puts his mind to it, depending on how much debugging he has to do at the end.
About the professor: yeah, I’m not a fan of this guy, either. He’s pretty abrasive in emails, and he’s usually dismissive with [your son] when he tries to bring up the trouble he’s having. I’m sure you’re even more frustrated, especially with the debacle last year. I think it’s difficult for some professors to understand what it’s like for [your son] in school and the strain his autism puts on his relationship with his academics. It would certainly be easier if he could empathize a little with [your son]’s situation.
In absence of that, we’ll need to work on self-advocacy skills a bit. I really wish that [your son] didn’t have to do this, and that his professors were better about providing him with the accommodations he deserves. Unfortunately, this is a pretty big difference from his middle school and high school experience, where his accommodations were federally mandated and he didn’t need to self-advocate. Now that he’s in college, he has to do a lot more fighting for himself, which is a tough change to adjust to.
It’s especially tough for [your son], since he struggles with confrontation and feeling like others are upset with him. I’m sure he’s having a tough time adjusting to asking for what he needs instead of it mostly being provided to him.
Yes, we’ll set aside some time next week to talk about self-advocacy skills and practice that conversation so he knows what to expect. We’ll especially need to talk about the exact supports he’ll need to access class information better (especially the lecture hall problem) and the accommodations that helped a lot in high school (especially extra time for the reading difficulties).
I hope this practice will help him feel more comfortable in asking for accommodations in the future. In the meantime, if you think he needs more assistance, there are a few professional educational advocates I know that might be worth meeting with. I know they do a lot of practice and prep to help students rehearse advocating for themselves.
I wish we’d been able to get accommodations for the project this undergrad student was working on, but I didn’t think it was a battle worth fighting (at least not until we were more prepared). It can be tough to get accommodations as an undergraduate student with LD, since you mostly need to go out and secure them for yourself, instead of the school providing them for you.
Federal law (IDEA) guarantees a “free and appropriate education”, but that only applies to K-12. In college and beyond, there aren’t federal protections on learning accommodations, and while most schools make at least a token effort of including learners of all kinds, it’s often a difficult process. Students who aren’t used to advocating for themselves need to practice those skills and learn to identify exactly what they need to access information and prove mastery of material. That’s something I’m thrilled to be able to practice with students, so they can ask for the support they need to feel confident and capable at school.