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.


Some technology and tips for students with language processing disorders.


I live with a language processing disorder. I didn’t know that as a student and for years I had to learn things the hard way- including how to learn. I found that I couldn’t pull all-nighters the way other students did because words started to loose their meaning for me as I got tired. I found I sometimes needed to go to my professors’ office hours for more explanation of complex ideas, and I needed tutors for classes that required large amounts of memorization, like biology and math.

Knowing that a student has a language processing disorder provides some basic insight for teachers and disability service providers, mainly that the student may struggle to integrate written/spoken/visual language – to put it all together and make sense out of it – which impacts how the student will learn. Fortunately, there are a few aids now available that can assist students with finding additional ways to access information.


Electronic text can be useful for students who do better processing information they hear vs. trying to read large sections of text. I therefore suggest that students consider sources of textbooks which give them access to both the visual text and an e-text, which they can listen to but also manipulate for visual effect on their computer. Two sources of e-text are Bookshare ( and CourseSmart (  As long as Bookshare’s funding lasts they will be able to provide free membership to those with qualifying disabilities.


Another technology that can be useful are the Livescribe Pens (; this is still proprietary technology (no one else can currently manufacture these – although they are sold in some national chain stores.) These pens need to be used with the notebooks also manufactured by the company. The result, however, are notes that can be downloaded to a computer. Additionally, the pens record audio; these audio notes are synced with the written notes so that the pen can be touched to any point in the notes and the audio will playback what was being said at that point. This can be particularly useful for students who need to hear what a teacher says several times, while reviewing the notes they took.


For students who do not take much in the way of notes but who benefit from hearing lecture points several times, there are a number of reasonably priced, small digital recorders currently available. If a student is working with a disability service provider on campus, it is also possible to arrange for a note-taker if a student has a qualifying disability – someone else will write notes for the student.

writing notes

Professors are also increasingly making use of online platforms like Blackboard and Canvas to post notes, slides, and other information online for students to download and review. It can be very helpful for a student to download these notes, outlines, or slides before class, and then take class-notes directly onto these aids.


Learning centers are also very useful for students with language processing disorders. The tutors who work in these centers can assist a student with homework, and review class lectures, readings, and ideas to make sure the student is learning the main concepts during the semester. It also helps a person process knowledge when they discuss key points and ideas with another person. Trying to explain class concepts to another person will also give a student a better idea of what they currently understand and what they still need to review and clarify.


I’m always looking for ideas and examples of what others find useful and welcome people to share their thoughts and experiences in the comment section for this blog. I have had one student, for example, who told me she actually finds making and using her own flashcards (writing key concepts on note-cards with the answers on back) a very effective way to prepare for exams. First she’s writing the flashcards out, then she is reviewing them to see what she knows and what she’s still struggling with. The more ways we find to engage our brain, the more likely we are to remember what we’re trying to learn.


Perhaps the most important thing for any disabled student to realize is how their disability impacts their personal learning when combined with their individual learning strengths. For example, a dyslexic student who is a visual learner is going to have to find ways to ‘see’ what a teacher is explaining – examples can be very important and it may be necessary to attend a professor’s office hours and ask the professor if there is another way to explain an idea – a way that is more visual.


Again, learning centers can be useful because there is another person (the tutor) who will have different ideas from the professor about how to explain key ideas. Sometimes it takes trial and error to find a person who can explain challenging concepts in a way that works best with one’s own learning strengths.


Communicating with the school disability service provider can also be a useful strategy, particularly if the student is struggling and needs additional ideas for how to tackle the situation they are in. No student does better by quietly suffering. Schools want students to learn and there are a range of supports that can assist a student with learning. The responsibility to seek out these supports though, rests with the student once they are in college. There are an increasing number of resources available and disability service providers and students can work together to find new ways of accessing information.



Mobility Challenges and College


One of the things I like about this constantly evolving technological age is the ability to meet and learn about people I would never have encountered otherwise. A young woman I’ve met through blogging recently reminded me about the daily challenges that those with mobility impairments face; this in turn got me thinking about the young people I work with who also live with mobility disabilities.

Whatever field of study a student is interested in, some campuses are going to be easier to navigate than others. Some people choose to weigh the physical challenges of a campus against the strength of the program the campus offers. Others decide that no matter how many obstacles a campus provides, they will find ways to overcome them to study where they choose.



The campus where I work provides physical challenges due to our geographic and latitudinal location – we’re set in a rocky, hilly, cold, northern location, sandwiched into a valley with a highway splitting our campus in half, and the dormitory half of the campus being built into and onto a hill. Hardly ideal for most people and in the winter an absolute nightmare at times, to navigate around.


How do students adjust and how has the campus adjusted? We’ve found that rather than wheelchairs,  three wheeled scooters are a better adaptation to the environment. The campus isn’t overly large, which means at least the classroom are all fairly close together – as an institution we can provide students with priority registration, so they can arrange class times/locations in a way that allows for the time in-between classes that makes the individual comfortable.

mobility scooter

I did advocate persistently until we had electronic doors installed on all buildings, and when needed we provided students with remote control openers for these doors – when you have a scooter in winter a remote door opener just works better than trying to get close enough to physically hit a big button to open a door.


What doesn’t work so well? The highway running between the classroom side of campus and the dorm side of campus remains one of my pet peeves – students with mobility issues need to get across that road in the winter without falling or getting stuck. At least we do have a great grounds crew who tries to keep the route passable. This is hardly ideal however.

Dinning halls can also be problematic. Ask anyone in a wheelchair and they’ll tell you that most dinning halls aren’t designed with them in mind. And someone with balance and stability problems will be challenged to carry a tray through the average dinning hall – sometimes students have to use assistance even if they would prefer to be completely independent.


My real point though is – universities can make adjustments, even if at first they don’t realize that adjustments need to be made. Sometimes it does take a disabled person speaking out and explaining why something isn’t working, in order for change to happen; once change has happened future students will benefit and the university may even become more diverse as a wider range of people begin to feel comfortable there.


For an individual’s peace of mind and to lower personal stress, however, I would suggest that before accepting a place at a college one should take a tour of the campus. See for yourself where the challenges will be, then talk to the disability service provider to get a sense of how resistant to change the institution is. Only then are you ready to make a decision about if a particular school is the right place for you.



Should I register with disability services at college? Will employers know?

StudentStudyingEvery year I end up working with at least some students who are concerned about registering with the office of student disability services when they start college. Some students think that since college is a new start, a new chapter in their lives, they should try to manage without any accommodations. (They usually end up in my office after at least one semester of low grades.)

Other students have been told that if they register with disability services, this will somehow show up on their permanent record and reflect negatively on their future job applications.


I continue to encounter people who believe this — that if a potential employer finds out a job applicant is disabled they will hesitate to hire that person. In fact, with the changes in federal law and social understandings of what it means to have a diverse workplace, the opposite may be true. Some employers, including the federal government, are actively recruiting disabled employees.

First, let’s address the concern that an employer will know you registered as disabled if you use services in college.

diverse work group

This is not true. Disability records, like counseling records, are kept separately from the rest of a student’s file; the information in them is not released unless a student signs a waiver that states exactly who can look at their record and what information the viewer is allowed to see.

Next, let’s consider the idea that college is a new phase in life, and therefore a student should try at least their first semester without using accommodations. I work every year with students who try this. The reality is, the way a disability impacts a person’s ability to learn is not changed just by moving to a new physical address. If a student benefited from extended test time in high school, that student will continue to benefit from extended time in college.


Students who do not use accommodations that they need will usually have grades that suffer as a result. This can lead to a student being placed on academic probation after their first semester, or first year at college — unlike high school where the impact of a low grade might just be repeating the class — at college too many low grades will mean being dismissed, i.e. a student is eventually told to leave and may not be allowed to come back.

If a good grade point average is important to a student/their family, then I would suggest the student be positioned for success right from the beginning.


This means not only registering with the disability service provider on campus but also finding out about other academic supports that are available on campus. Basically every campus now has some version of ‘learning centers’ where students can go to work with people on subjects they are struggling with; these centers usually include a writing center, math center, and more — or there may be one centralized center that supports a range of topics.


Remember, the most successful students at college are not the ones who try and do everything by themselves; successful students use all the resources they need including accommodations, talking to professors, and learning centers. As a result, these students have better grades (and are learning/remembering more) and are in a better position when it is time to apply for work.