Preparing Invisibly Disabled Students for a College Education

Photo: Kumar Vanga

Photo: Kumar Vanga

I’m Christy, a disability service provider at a research university in the Midwest (U.S.) – I live and work near Lake Superior where today it is particularly blustery, cold, and snowy.

Our geographic location is somewhat removed from major urban areas, so at first glance it might be surprising that this university attracts so many bright, successful students. What isn’t surprising to those of us who know about disability, is that a number of these intelligent young people also live with invisible disabilities. Our school is attractive to students because of the high success rate of those who graduate, the range of hands-on learning opportunities, a robust research agenda where even under-graduates can participate, and a strong internship program which allows students to practice their profession before they graduate. Again – these are particularly attractive qualities to those students who like to practice doing what they are learning about.

In recent years I’ve noticed that the transition to university life has been harder and harder for students. I think there are a number of reasons that contribute to this, including that students with more complicated disabilities are going further educationally than they have in previous years. These students have traditionally had more support, and perhaps more advocating on their behalf from their families.

What neither students or parents are necessarily prepared for is how significantly the transition from high school – and home support networks – will impact the student. Students who have had reminders to take medication, get up on time, often had meals provided will now be responsible for everything from keeping track of schedules and homework to remembering to wash their own laundry. The stress and anxiety that is normal for any freshman student is often therefore even higher for disabled students who may be managing aspects of their disability on their own that have never been their sole responsibility before.  Add to this that many such students are already living with anxiety and it isn’t too hard to see why the first year of college can too often be the only year of college for some students.

I began to think about how best to address these issues with the students I worked with.

I realized that if families had some guidance with how to prepare their students beforehand, and if families had a clearer idea of what the expectations of the university setting would be, they would be able to better prepare for this transition.

freedigitalimages

free digital photos.net

As I thought about this it occurred to me that thanks to the increasing use of technology it would be possible to create an online environment for sharing questions, concerns, and information.

It also seemed like many of the students would find it useful to have a handbook they could refer to – something that could be at-hand even when a computer wasn’t. I found a wonderful publisher who has already published a great deal of information about living with disability – Jessica Kingsley Publishers. In April of 2013 JKP will make available the book that is a handy take away in a way that a blog cannot be, Succeeding as a Student in the STEM Fields with an Invisible Disability.

Announcement of New Book

For those not familiar with the term, STEM is short-hand for science, technology, engineering, and math.

I choose this focus for the book because of the students that STEM education attracts – intelligent students who may not have had to study before they arrive at college; students who may have found high school often did not challenge them. These are the students who are often least prepared for university because they arrive with few or no study skills. While the information in this book, and this blog, can be useful for a much larger audience, it has sections that are particularly aimed at students who still need to learn how to study.

It is my hope that with time this site will become a community of people sharing ideas, questions, challenges, and possible solutions. It is my intent that I will become a facilitating voice, with many other voices joining to share experiences and information. Towards that end, I welcome feedback, questions, and topics that people would like more information about. Please let me know if you have any ideas you would like to see discussed here.

Thank you for taking time to stop in I hope to hear from you soon!

Christy

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