Resources For Special Needs Youth Who Want To Attend College

Winter 2009 | | April 19, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Family Initiatives Project Coordinator Marsha King has been asked the following questions by parents who have participated in the Family Initiatives Project sessions:

"How can my special needs child attend college?"

"Who will help my learning disabled child get into college?"

Reflecting upon their educational experience and the GEAR UP Mission Statement of Academic Excellence and College Access for ALL Students, GEAR UP Regional Coordinators offer these thoughtful suggestions.


Regional Coordinator Don Mar makes these recommendations that come from his personal experiences and connections to higher education personnel:

1. Develop A Persistent Attitude.

Teach and preach in continuing efforts to develop a strong attitude, will, drive, and desire necessary to support a student’s quest for attaining a college education.

2. Use College Websites.

Teach parents and students the need to actively explore and search for college information. Being Berkeley-based, I use the Cal Berkeley website,

a) At put the cursor over Applying to Berkeley; then click on Disabled Student’s Program. This is the department at UCB that gives support for Special Needs and Special Education Students. Every college has a department similar and they are the advocates for Special Ed students. The direct website link is

b) For other colleges, go to, another good resource. In the “College Search” section, select [Find your match], then choose Specialized Options. Scroll down to create a search for colleges that accommodate specific needs and other desired qualities. The direct link is

3. Use Advocates.

Some are individuals and some are organizations ranging from non-profit to private. The advocate works under the umbrella of the law to support Special Education Students. Here are some websites:



They have an office in Sacramento (916-442-3385)

c) Office of Client Rights Advocacy (CCRA) 1-800-390-7032

It takes a combination of aggressive hustle and coordination between Undergraduate Admissions, DSP, school counselor, teachers, administrators, and the family to assure that the rights of Special Education students are being met, served, and advocated for. This is one area where teachers, counselors and all school staff should not be passive.


Regional Coordinator Sean Brennan, who has taught special education students, proposes these discussion topics and actions for parents and family members:

1.Start discussing post-high school goals early, during student IEP meetings with your child’s teachers and other professionals. Ask questions. What programs or opportunities do these experts think your child is realistically capable of pursuing? It is now a requirement for postsecondary goals to be discussed in your child’s IEP by the time he or she is sixteen, according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA). What phase of “transition planning” are you in with your child?

2. As your child gets older, they will start to think about where their friends are going to attend college and you will want to know if these schools offer programs appropriate for your child. Call local colleges and ask what programs they offer for your child’s specific disability. It’s rare today for colleges NOT to offer services to assist and support students with special needs. Make yourself aware of what is available.

3. In order for your child to feel content and satisfied with her young adult experience, she will need to play a role in directing her own life. This can be difficult for parents, who feel their child needs their constant care and direction. Take small steps back and let your child have some say. What are her interests? What would she like to do? Where would she like to live?

4. You should understand that once your child leaves high school, he or she is no longer supported by IDEA, or IEP. Now your child will be supported by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and section 504. Discrimination in employment, accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications based on a person’s disability is prohibited by the ADA. However, your child is now not a child anymore, but an adult. Education is no longer a guaranteed right, but an opportunity to be sought.

5. Many schools have good relationships with local departments of transition and service providers that will give students with disabilities an opportunity to gain work and school experience before they graduate. This is great for students unsure of what they would like to do after high school.

With good transition planning during high school, you should have a clear expectation of where your child is headed and how to best support him in his future goals. Their IEP teacher or special education professional at their school will be your first contact.

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