Summer – time to prep for the transition to college.


For most families summer means a change of pace from the normal routine that has been part of their school year. If this is the final summer before a student starts college then it will be a particularly exciting time of planning. For those moving to dorm rooms there will be decisions to make about what to bring and anticipation and probably some anxiety about what will happen in the fall.

This is a great time for families to ensure that their students are receiving the level of practice they need to be successfully independent with the day-to-day life skills that will be necessary as college students. Is the student responsible for getting herself up, taking her own medicine; is the student doing his own laundry, remembering to maintain his personal hygiene routine? The summer before college begins is the right time for families to be making sure these life skills are well-practiced.


Summer is also a good time to have a student practice making and keeping their own doctor’s appointment. Often, students are still reliant on a parent/guardian to take care of these kind of details for them. As they transition into adulthood, being mindful of their own medical care is an important aspect of staying healthy, particularly if the student requires medication, or has a health concern that requires monitoring.


Summer is also an excellent time to practice grocery shopping and fixing a few simple meals. Many dormitory buildings now have common kitchen areas where students can make a meal to share with friends or to enjoy alone when they need a change from cafeteria food. Having the practice of shopping for ingredients and preparing a few such meals is another life skill that will continue to benefit the student; it may also provide an opportunity for the student to make food to share with new friends – a positive way of creating social connections with others. When I was a college student my two best friends and I used to greatly enjoy getting together for simple meals, a time to relax, de-stress, and enjoy each other’s company without needing to spend a lot of money or travel.


Associated with shopping and cooking of course, is the practice of doing dishes. Even students who have little interest in cooking should have the practice of preparing a meal or snack for themself and then cleaning up in a timely manner after themself. Many students will transition through a time of shared space in either dormitory or apartment life. Without the practice of maintaining the communal living space in a mutually acceptable way to others, they will inevitably engage in conflicts. This implies that the student also recognizes when chores like vacuuming and floor washing are necessary and responds appropriately.


Finally, don’t forget to make sure students have practice sorting and washing their own laundry, including their bed linen and towels. If a student is a low impact clothing user – i.e. they live in six tee shirts and a couple of pair of jeans – then they might be able to get by doing one load of laundry a week. It will also be very noticeable to their professors and peers that they are not doing a load of laundry when those few ‘go-to’ outfits start to smell of body and food odor. Ironically, sometimes students can be very aware of odor other than their own, without realizing that their own aroma is starting to offend people. These are conversations that families should have with a student before the student is expected to transition to college and the student should have ample opportunity for hands on practice of maintaining their own clean clothing.

Summer is a great time for creating opportunities to practice life skills that a student may not have had time to polish during the more hectic school year. These opportunities can be combined with other events that a family has planned; in fact, practicing taking medicine without reminders, maintaining personal hygiene, keeping track of one’s own laundry needs – these skills can all be practiced during vacations and other family outings.

family summer

Even if a family’s time continues to be very scheduled, it is important to create opportunities to assist the future college first year student in being prepared with the adequate life skills they will use. Remember, the more practice a student has being independent before the new school year starts, the more likely they are to be able to successfully navigate the anxiety of transitioning to a new set of expectations.


Is this book for you?

Do you have an invisible disability?
Does someone in your family live with AD/HD, dyslexia, Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism Spectrum Disorder, a learning disability, or an affective disorder like depression?
Are you or an invisibly disabled person you know in college or preparing for college?
Are you the parent of an invisibly disabled child whom you would like to eventually prepare for college?
Are you an educator or support staff for disabled students?

These are the people who are the primary audience for this book.
While the title might indicate that only those who are going to study science, technology, math, or engineering might find the book useful, this is not the case. STEM fields are singled out because many of the invisibly disabled students who study in these fields are very intelligent and may not have developed study habits prior to leaving high school. Regardless of if a student has or needs to develop study habits though, this book provides guidance and information for invisibly disabled students, their families and supporters.

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This handbook can help families prepare a younger student years in advance of the child’s entering college, by giving insight into the changes in academic expectations a student will face, and changes in legal status that a family will face. It can also help teachers and aids realize the kinds of independence that a range of disabled students need to develop prior to graduation.

If a student is already in college, then the book will be helpful in knowing who students and families can talk to for different types of academic and emotional support. Families may for example, know about the disability support person on campus but are they aware of the learning centers? Do they realize the importance of the Housing staff? Do families know when is it appropriate for parents or caregivers to intercede on their student’s behalf? How can a family assist their student in obtaining the support the student does need?

For those working in higher education there are insights provided regarding the challenges different disabilities present for students. Medications wear off, brains function differently when processing the same types of information, while the majority of disabled students live with multiple disabilities.

Containing some of the ‘insider’ knowledge of how higher education works, this book is a handy reference for students and families. It also provides insight for educators who may not realize what families are facing in preparing their invisibly disabled student, or the particular challenges that invisibly disabled students face when learning and living.


Available now directly from Jessica Kingsely Publishers or through booksellers.

How MOOCs can assist disabled students.


There is increasing buzz about the potential of MOOCs (massive open online courses) to making education available to everyone. As MOOCs are offered by schools like Harvard and MIT, some people have proposed that this is the future of education. Students need to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground however, and remember:  no one is yet offering, 1) MOOC degrees or 2) jobs to people educated through MOOCs.

MOOCs do offer university level instruction to people who due to distance, cost, or interest in only very specialized topics are not able/willing to enroll in full time study at a university. MOOCs have another potential value, which I am not seeing people discussing. Invisibly disabled students could potentially use MOOCs as study tools before enrolling in and paying for a class for credit.

Consider for example a student who needs one math class for their degree, but who struggles with math. Taking a MOOC class like college algebra would allow the student to prepare. There are also pre-college algebra classes offered, if a student needs more foundational work before taking their for-credit university class. The MOOC class will not count for degree purposes, however, the practice the MOOC class would give in learning and working with concepts might be the precursor to success that a student could use. MOOC classes can also be repeated without cost, so that a student could repeat a class until they are comfortable enough with the content matter to take the class for credit.


This is an area of educational preparation where MOOCs may prove to have something valuable to offer to invisibly disabled students who are seeking degrees. Enrollment in the MOOC classroom is unlimited, just as there is no limit to how many times a student reviews an open source class. In other words, a student can repeat the same class if needed to prepare for content matter they struggle with. This obviously is not a way to prepare for an entire degree, however, it can be useful when a student struggles with a specific class.

If you are a student who struggles with certain types of learning, then consider looking into the availability of MOOC classes which would allow you to work with concepts before you take a similar class for credit. And for families who have a student who desires a college education but who still needs to practice social skills before leaving home, MOOC classes provide access to educational practices that can be used at home, before the student relocates to a university or college away from home. MOOCs real value is in continuing education and in educational preparation. Once we recognize their value for what it is, we can see how MOOCs can be another tool in preparing invisibly disabled students for college success.

Summer Classes – New topics, re-do poor grades, or not-at-all?


Depending on one’s school, summer semester may be the same length as all other semesters, or it may be a compacted semester. For example, some schools offer concentrated classes that do not meet over as many weeks but that do meet for a longer time period during each class session. If one is taking this kind of concentrated summer class there are some decided things to be aware of, particularly if one lives with a disability that impacts his or her learning.

The best strategy for summer classes may be to focus on repeating classes that were nearly passed the previous semester, or that one passed with a very low grade. Improving the grade in these classes will improve a student’s overall grade point average (GPA) which helps a student maintain good academic standing – academic standing impacts a student’s eligibility for financial aid, as well as whether or not a student will end up on academic probation or suspension.


This also makes financial sense if one considers that it is more cost effective to privately borrow money during a shorter summer semester, should they have temporarily lost their financial aid due to grades. While tuition costs may stay the same, housing/food costs will be lower for the shorter summer semester. By re-taking classes that one failed earlier, during the summer, a student may be able to re-qualify for financial aid by the beginning of the fall semester.

When is retaking a previously failed class during a shorter semester not a good idea? When a student struggles with the material, or the way the material is taught. In these cases a student may benefit from retaking the class during a standard length semester so that they have more time to work with the information, tutors/learning centers, and their memories. Many disabilities impact memory and limit how much a student can memorize in a short period of time. In these cases, taking an abbreviated class in a subject area a student struggles with is often not a good idea.


Memory, availability of tutors and sometimes limited summer hours in learning centers are also reasons why it is often not a good idea for a student  to take challenging-to-them new classes during the summer. Professors are still required to cover the same basic information, homework assignments, and assigned readings during the shortened semester as they do during a regular semester.

I do sometimes meet students who mistakenly believe that because a summer class might only last half as long during a summer semester as it does during the ‘regular’ school year, that the professor will assign only half as much work. This simply isn’t so. Students need to have the same preparation at the end of the semester for the classes that will follow, regardless of what time of year they took a class. Whether a semester is seven or fourteen weeks long, students need to know the same material and obviously that puts more pressure on a student, their memory, and their anxiety level.


Summer is often a good time for a change of pace. Students should consider developing their work experience during the summer; this may include apply for an internship with a company. Even if a job is outside a student’s area however, the experience gained through working is valuable for a resume – work with the Career Services office on campus if unsure how to ‘fit’ work experience onto a resume. And remember – “work” does not have to be paid to belong on a resume. If a student has no luck finding a paying job, then the student should find an organization they can volunteer for that will help them build up their work experience.

Summer may also be a good time to take a class through a local community college that is not the student’s primary school. Students can check with their primary school’s registrar’s office to make sure any class(es) they take will transfer. Summer may also be the best time to get some a student’s physical education requirements taken care of with a swimming, rowing, sailing, or golfing class.


I failed a class/the semester – what can I do?

Have you reached the end of the semester and found you failed one or more – even all of your classes? What can you do?


First, ask yourself some questions:

  • Did I go to class regularly (even if it was boring, pointless, repetitive, put you to sleep)
  • Did I arrive in class on time (was I late on more than one occasion)
  • Did I hand in all assigned homework on time
  • Did I take notes
  • Did I review the notes
  • Did I participate if the class allowed for participation
  • Did I use the learning centers on campus (do I know where the campus learning centers are? Do I know if there are any?)
  • If projects/presentations were part of the class did I do my best on all of them, show up for all group work and meetings on time
  • Did I keep up with the reading for the class during the semester and review my notes after class so that I was studying all semester – or did I wait and try and cram for tests in the few days/hours before a test
  • Did I seek out the professor and/or Teaching Assistant during their office hours and ask questions about homework or classwork that I did not understand


If you have done all of these things, consider the following:

  • Do I need to talk to the professor to find out if there is a mistake in my grade? – Grade entry is often computer automated these days, and professors can occasionally make a data entry error that needs to be corrected. This is something to bring to a professor’s attention as soon as you discover the incorrect grade.
  • Do I need to file a grade appeal? If you have handed in all your homework and been given passing grades, if you have passed all your tests and gone to class and still did not pass the class, yet you were still given a failing grade, then again, you need to immediately bring this to the professor’s attention. If the professor states that the failing grade is accurate, you can file an appeal with the department the professor teaches for – but I would recommend FIRST making an appointment to sit down with the professor and explain why you thought you were passing and listen to the professor’s explanation for why you were given the failing grade.

Now let us suppose that you failed but it was neither an error nor a misunderstanding between what the professor expected and what you thought the professor expected.

If you did all of the above – went to class, studied throughout the semester (not relying on cramming just before an exam), used the appropriate learning centers, talked to the professor when you didn’t understand something – yet you received a failing grade – it may be that the information was presented in a way that is not suited to your learning style. You may need to repeat the class to learn the information.

Some classes are very complex, plus the information is not presented in a way that suits a wide range of learners. In a case like this, it may be necessary to take a class a second time — sometimes repetition of ideas and greater familiarity with a topic will assist in learning the information. Also, some professors may be able to teach a subject in a way that engages an individual student in a way that another professor does not. Professors and students are all human; with a complex topic, sometimes the professor teaching does make a difference. Not everyone teaches or learns the exact same way and different combinations of student and teacher can impact learning.

If, you failed more than one class though, you need to consider the following:

  • You are trying to do too much at once – you’re either taking more credit hours and/or working, or have too many social activities, or are otherwise trying to fit too much activity into the time you have.
  • You are in the wrong field of study.

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It is important to consider which of these apply to your situation and comparing yourself to others will not help.

It doesn’t matter if someone else is doing the same amount of activity that you are yet not failing – we are each individuals and we each have to discover the pace we can work at, and how much we can do at once. Our brains are not all built the same way, and our brains do not all process information or stimuli the same way. Just as we all have things we can do without effort, we all have at least one thing we have to work harder than others at. Are you trying to do too much at once? Did you find yourself always running out of time, always needing to be in two places at once? Then you may need to cut down on activities and maybe cut down on the number of classes you take, in order to be successful. Talking to an academic advisor can be helpful in working out what changes you can make to be more successful.

It may be even harder to figure out if you are in the wrong field of study. Just because you really want to follow a certain career path does not mean you will be able to successfully obtain a degree in a given field. Have you ever watched a talent contest? (There are more and more of them televised these days). Have you noticed that while some people are very talented at singing or dancing or playing an instrument or at physical activities, others do not have the same talents? Everyone has talents, strengths, and things they do well – but sometimes what we want most and our strengths do not match up. If you are struggling to pass classes in a certain field of study, then you might be like the person who desperately wants to be a singer but cannot stay on key. You may need to separate your hobbies and interests from your potential to be employed.


Look for the Career Services office on your campus, or talk to your Academic Advisor. Find out about the possible jobs that would allow you to use your strengths without requiring so much of what you struggle with. If for example, you have trouble with math it is one thing to have to survive/pass one math class as part of a degree requirement and another to try and become a mathematician…or any other career where math would be both foundational and regularly required.

And if you are a student who is struggling but who has not studied throughout the semester, has not used learning centers, has not talked to the professor, has not gone to class regularly or does not arrive on time – it may be that what you need is to consider if you really want a college education. These are the practices necessary for most people to be successful in college. If you don’t want to do these things, then you may be pursuing a job/career in the wrong way. Have you considered certification in a field that allows you to learn hands on? Journey-person training in trades can lead to very well paid jobs which remain in demand – in fact, predictions are that countries around the globe are not training enough trades people and that demand is going to continue to increase.

Consider if you are in the right field of study. Consider if you need to try a different school, different field, or different path to employment. Talk to a Career Counselor and Academic Advisor about your options. Remember, education is supposed to be challenging, not painful. If your current course of study is making you suffer, you need to reexamine either your goals or your approach to your goals.

I know you have stress, what are you doing to deal with it?


Photo – Workers Law Watch

The life of a college student is stressful. The stress begins with the initial transition to campus from home, then the transition in expectations from high school to college life; the longer you stay in school, the harder classes tend to get; roommates and others might be difficult to share space with; professors may have unrealistic expectations…and then there’s the exams.

As I watch the students around me melting down as we ramp up into final exam period, I understand that everyone has reason to feel distressed. This is a busy time of year, there is still a limited amount of sunshine in our northern climate, and everyone is ready for a break from classes. When I talk to students about how they are caring for themselves, though, I find that they are not doing some of the helpful daily things that can assist them in finishing the semester on a strong note. Some appear intent on burning themselves out, apparently forgetting that just because the semester is nearly over doesn’t mean they will have some magical recovery once the last test or paper is handed in.


In order to help one’s self deal with stress there are some very practical steps a person can take.

1. Create a pattern of sleeping, eating, homework/study that allows for breaks while studying as well as time to sleep and eat.

2. Sleep at night – for many students the time for sleep may be midnight to seven a.m. and for those taking medication or with certain disabilities, getting to bed before midnight may also be necessary.

3. Give your brain time to relax before it is time to sleep – make a relaxing walk, shower/bath, listening to quieting music or whatever works for you – part of your ‘wind down’ time before going to bed.

4. Don’t engage in activities that get your brain or adrenalin going just before trying to sleep. No exciting video games or pumped up music or activities that will leave you revved up instead of winding down.

While it is important to create this routine for yourself, it is also helpful to work every day, throughout the day, on your homework and study. Most students have under-utilized chunks of time during the day that just slips away – use these time slots to start working on an assignment, or to complete some of the reading that has been assigned in class.

Leaving all homework and reading until the evening again increases stress, decreases how much you will remember, and thus feeds into the cycle of feeling like you’re working hard and getting little in return for that hard work. If you have trouble with time management, seek out an academic adviser or councilor who can assist you with working on these skills.


Recognize also, that by the end of the semester one either has been keeping up with the information needed to pass a class or they have not. Waiting until the final weeks to try and learn a semester’s worth of information basically does not work. Instead of trying to pull a passing grade out at the last second, consider what can be done differently in the future to avoid repeating the mistakes of the present. Set up appointments with counseling services for the beginning of the next semester. Talk to your academic adviser about your proposed course load, and reconsider taking foundational courses that were barely passed – you probably didn’t learn as much as you will need. Future courses build on the information you were supposed to be learning in foundational courses.

A degree, by itself does not get a person a job. A person’s grades and the experiences they gain through work study, internships, projects, research etc. are all important. Stress increases when a person realizes they are struggling and if one is struggling too much in classes that are corp to one’s field of study, then one may need to consider changing their field of study.

If you are a student who is stressed out all the time, then you may simply be studying in the wrong subject area  – career service advice is available on basically all college campuses. If stress seems fundamental to the area of study you are pursuing, then talk to career services about possible areas of study that might prove less distressing for you, given your personal strengths and challenges. Remember, education is supposed to be challenging, not painful.


If your stress is based on the other hand, on not being prepared for classes and tests – then you may need to re-examine if you are ready to be in college yet, or if you need to spend time in a minimum wage job. Until one feels a personal motivation to be in college, one is probably wasting time and money, and invariably increasing their personal stress level for the wrong reasons, by being in college. If you have no personal reasons for being in college, then the entire process is likely to be stressful – and an expense that might take years to pay off.

Failing Classes: What can I do?


Every semester I meet with students who have the same concern, “I’m failing my classes – what can I do?”

I usually respond by trying to find out what the student is already doing.

  • Do you go to class
  • Are you completing homework on time and handing it in
  • Do you read and review the assigned readings
  • Are you going to your professor’s office hours and asking specific questions when you do not understand something
  • Are you using the learning centers on campus

Usually by the time we get to the end of this list I will find one of two things: a) the student is not doing these things and offers reasons/explanations for why these activities are not possible for them,  or b) the student has tried all of these and is still failing.We’ll return to these points in a moment.

I also inquire into a student’s time spent on other activities: do you work; do you belong to a social group; are you involved in a sport; are you gaming online; do you use social media very frequently? Students do not always make a connection between all the time they spend on other activities and a lack of success in classes.


First we will consider the students who are doing everything – going to class, homework, asking  specific questions of professors, using learning centers…these students may have a disability which is interfering in learning the material or they may just have a learning style which does not work with the professor’s teaching style. I often advise these students to consider dropping the class they are failing. If a student is failing everything and doing everything – then we have a conversation about needing to change their course of study.

If as a student everything you can do is not enough to be successful in the majority of your classes, you are in the wrong area of study. Education is supposed to be challenging, not painful. Talk to the Career Services or Career Counselors on campus – you need assistance finding a field of study that works better with your strengths and doesn’t emphasize the areas of study where you struggle.


If on the other hand, as a student you are not going to class, handing in homework, asking the professor specific questions – for example, you have tried to complete a problem several times but still do not understand how to reach the correct answer – and you are not reviewing the reading or using learning centers…then I’m not surprised you may be struggling in a class. Students do not always leave high school having learned how to study; often smart students do not need to study in high school and when they are finally challenged in college they aren’t sure how to respond.

If as a student you aren’t sure how to approach studying, then learning centers and academic support will be vital life-lines for you to use. If you have a disability, then you should be talking to the campus disability service provider about academic support that will assist you. Tutors can be very useful also. Finally, look around you for fellow students who do know how to study and talk to them about what they do; some use flash cards, some read their textbooks and make margin notes or use highlighters, they recopy their notes from class – try different techniques like these to help you remember the information from class and the assigned readings.

Also consider the number of classes and the amount of homework you are attempting in the semester. Sometimes students fail because they try to fit too many classes and/or social activities/work activities into their limited number of hours each day. If the classes you are taking result in more hours needed for homework then as a student you have available, at least one class needs to be dropped.

If social activities and/or work are adding too many extra obligations to a student’s limited hours, then these other activities either need to be cut down or eliminated.


If a student needs to work to support herself then being a full time student may not be possible; it may be better to take one or two classes at a time. If on the other hand, a student is determined to be a full time student, then work may need to be cut down or eliminated during the semester if work is taking too much time from study/classes.

I often meet students who feel frustrated; they feel like they have tried everything and nothing works to help them be more successful. Often though, they have tried just what they can think of and there are actually options which they have not considered, or there are options that they have dismissed without trying. And sometimes I meet students who give up on an option too quickly, “I tried the learning center once and it didn’t help.” I’ll then remind the student that many people work in a learning center and just because the first person they met with wasn’t a good match, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go back to the learning center and try meeting with a different person.

Sometimes talking to a person in the Dean of Students or Chancellor’s office, or an academic advisor can help students think of a strategy for success that hadn’t occurred to them yet, or may even allow a student to become aware of a service on campus that they didn’t know about.


Students – do not suffer in silence. If as a student you feel like you’ve done everything you can think of and still are not being successful then reach out for some assistance. Or maybe you know there are things you need to do differently but are struggling to take the next step. Either way, you can talk to your academic advisor, or disability support person, or make an appointment with the Dean of Student’s Office or Chancellor’s Office…there is academic support available on campus if you are willing to seek it out. Make an appointment to talk to someone who can assist you!