May and June Bring Significant Transitions
May and June bring the start of new beginnings, and I do not mean the flowery bumblebee type. For many high school and college students, the months of May and June mark a significant time of transition and bring a fresh start in their lives. For many students with disabilities, the road to young adulthood is often challenging and may require an ample amount of planning and research as well as years of different specialists intervening on the part of student. It is imperative to make plans before they get to the end of their high school years.
During my high school years, graduation was first a matter of helping me pass the graduation qualifying exam (formerly termed ISTEP, but now termed ILEARN in Indiana). In spite of my significant math-related learning disability, I passed the exam in the spring of my junior year (2004); it then became a matter of determining if I was ready for college.
Determining if College Was Right for Me
The decision did not take long, as my parents knew I was both intellectually and academically very bright. What I was lacking were the social skills, work experience, and independent living skills needed to thrive in the adult world.
Within the past few years, many colleges and adult services programs have realized that a fulfilling and meaningful sense of independence should not only be an option to postsecondary students without disabilities, but also to those with them. Several colleges and universities around the country including Clemson University, the University of Alabama, Western Kentucky University, University of Indianapolis (Build Program), and the University of West Florida have now developed specific on-campus programs aimed at serving degree-seeking students with diagnoses of intellectual or developmental disabilities or autism spectrum disorders. Such programming aims to provide a taste of the college experience to these young adults while also addressing their specific needs.
Understanding the Challenges of Adulthood
- Difficulty with social skills, appropriate social interaction, formation of reciprocal relationships, understanding of social boundaries
- Difficulty with executive functioning, attention, and learning challenges
- Problems with mental health, anxiety, depression, difficulties with emotional regulation
- Appropriate understanding of safety and responsibility for self and others in the community
In many ways, although young adults with disabilities may be very intelligent, they may lack a fundamental understanding of the life skills needed to live successfully after high school. Furthermore, because these students’ difficulties are often masked by their intelligence, a typical college or university may simply assume that he or she fares just as well at living independently as he or she does at writing a research paper or taking a test.
I was able to get through a four-year college education with a substantial amount of support including 1:1 student assistants hired to assist with tasks such as making sure my backpack was packed, helping with laundry and giving medication as well as other supports like on-campus tutoring, peer mentoring, and career counseling as well as mental health services.
Finding the Best Choice of Training, Education, or Employment is Key
However, I do understand that a college or university education may not be the right choice for every young adult. If so, that is perfectly understandable. Many young people with disabilities find it better for them to concentrate on employment and career skills after graduation, and they end up being just as fulfilled as those who attend college. Whatever option you choose, know that there is no right or wrong way.
Adulthood, like disability, is a very individualized journey, and you and your child have to come to a decision together as to what will work best for them. Whatever happens, don’t forget to celebrate together. I know when I look back, I have so many to thank for helping me live the wonderful, happy, busy life I live today. Enjoy this journey together. May you always look forward to the good yet to come, not back at what did not, as you help your child build his or her own happy, busy, and successful young adult life.