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Could Your Child Go to College?

The college dream may be attainable than you think

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Student Walking and Another in a Wheelchair in a Corridor in a University
Photo by Rayman/Getty Images
It may be one of those things you've crossed off your list of hopes -- perhaps at the insistence of school personnel who want you to be realistic about your child's abilities. But college, as it turns out, is not such an impossible dream for students with special needs. More and more post-secondary institutions are creating programs for students with disabilities -- even developmental and intellectual disabilities -- making the college dream more inclusive than ever. Whether you're getting close to transition time or looking for a new vision of your child's future, this overview of college accommodations will give you an idea of what to ask about.

504 Plans

Unlike IEPs, 504 plans follow your child to college. Although post-secondary institutions aren't subject to IDEA, they are bound by the civil-rights law of which 504s are a part. As you work with your teen to select a college, be sure to make his 504 part of the conversation on college tours. See what sort of accommodations the school will make, and how enthusiastically it will do so. Since your student will have to advocate for himself at the post-secondary level, you'll want to be sure there's administrative support and faculty awareness of his rights.

Specialized Services

The specialized services departments that can help your teen with a 504 may also offer academic accommodations to students without 504s, as long as they're able to establish a need. It's important to note that this doesn't include modifications to the class curriculum and work -- there's no special education in college, and the assumption is that your student is able to do the work. However, she may be able to get extra time on tests, note-taking assistance, the right to tape-record a class or use a calculator, and similar accommodations. This is another thing to ask about when talking to college personnel.

Community Colleges

If the SAT isn't something your child can pass or even make a productive pass through, community colleges may be a good option to start with. Your teen will not need an SAT score, but will be required to take a placement test. Based on that, he may have to start out in remedial classes for English and math, but those can make for a good slow transition from high school to college work, and may include programs for those with especially low scores that will give your student extra support and guidance.

Special Programs

More and more colleges, from community colleges to major universities, are introducing programs that allow students with intellectual disabilities to have a college experience, even if they are unable to do college-level work. The programs focus on independent living and work skills, and may in some cases involve living in the dorms. The website Think College has a growing database of programs to browse through. Although these are more along the line of self-contained than inclusion, they do present an opportunity to move on to college with age peers for kids for whom college might once have been unthinkable.
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