College Resources

Many thanks to Joan Azara for sharing her articles with us.

Ask Joan
For College Students with Learning Differences: 8 Keys to Success
Learning Specialist in a Box – Transition Planning
Students with Learning Disabilities: College Success and Proactive Preparation
Time Management for College Students
College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Student’s Perspective
Breaking Through 87 Roadblocks Schools Thrown Your Way
100 Web Tools for Learning with a Disability
Technical Assistance on Transition and the Rehabilitation Act (TATRA) Project
Looking Back and Planning Ahead: Reflections from a College Office of Student Disabilities Services
How to Prepare Your ADHD Student for College
Special Education Expenses – Tax Deductible or Not?
10 Quick Tips for Escaping Overwhelm – In 2010 and Beyond!
National Press Club

Ask Joan

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Your teen’s psychoeducational evaluation

Did you know that if your child is going to disclose a disability in college, his/her psychoeducational evaluation (documentation) must be no older than three years?

For many students, that means being re-tested.

Since executive function (ability to organize, set goals, problem-solve, regulate emotions, etc.) is an issue for many students with disabilities, how can you get an accurate reading of this variable?

Standardized test batteries in school have a low correlation with executive function. Tasks on tests are structured and don’t require planning or the organization needed for independent work. Even some of the Woodcock-Johnson sub- tests, administered by many psychoeducational testers, is limited in what it tells us because there is no time limit. So, if you are getting your child re-tested, what can you ask for that more accurately reflects executive function?

The Rey Osterrieth Complex Figure test is a good test of organizational ability. The Delis- Kaplan Executive Function System gives a better picture of the components of executive function, and it also measures the ability to use initial abstraction to problem-solve, as well as the ability to use feedback to improve performance. A good measure of executive function as it applies to real life is the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functions (BRIEF). Parents and teachers fill out a scale that examines eight components of executive function, and the result is feedback as to how well the student uses them at home and at school. This test can be ordered by psychologists, approved mental health providers, and some school professionals, so parents must specifically request it.

If your teen’s executive function is an issue, don’t settle for measurements by typically- administered tests for psychoeducational evaluations. Speak to whomever is testing your child about using the above tests to gain a more accurate reading.

For College Students with Learning Differences: 8 Keys to Success

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED

  1. Know your professors’ names and make personal contacts with them as often as possible. This conveys the message that you are interested in doing well.
  2. Enter the names and phone numbers of at least 3 classmates on each syllabus, so you have someone to call in the event of absence or confusion about regarding an assignment.
  3. DO NOT SKIP CLASSES, if at all possible. If you have to miss a class, call a classmate that evening for notes and homework, and return to class caught up.
  4. Everything the professor writes on the board should be entered in your notebook.
  5. Review all class notes (by simply reading them over) within 24 hours of taking them. This will greatly improve recall when exam time rolls around.
  6. Ask the professor if he/she has an old test on which you can practice. Some teachers re-use exams from year to year, others make up new exams and are willing to give you an old one on which you can “rehearse”.
  7. Vary your study techniques to prevent boredom – for example: alternate use of flashcards, a tape recorder, re-writing of notes, a study group or partner, and practice tests, so you stay engaged.
  8. Find interactive exercises on the internet that help you practice what you’re learning. For example, if you are studying quadratic equations, enter “quadratic equations + interactive exercises” (with quotes) into several search engines, and you’ll find sites that help you learn ACTIVELY.

Do you have a teen returning to college or one about to start?

If your teen is going off to college for the first time in September, I can empathize with your anxiety. After all, this is truly a rite of passage — entree into the adult world.

Is he prepared to live on his own? Does she have sound judgment and make wise decisions? Does he understand the college system and how to navigate as a student with a disability?

I’m sure all these thoughts are whirling around in your mind, as you run around trying to find twin extra long sheets, a mini fridge, and all the other accoutrements of a college student.

If your teen is returning for a second year, you may be anxious because the first year didn’t go nearly as well as planned. The pressure is on for your son or daughter to do things differently this time around, and you’re hoping that “different” is effective.

If your concern is turning into high anxiety as September approaches, this may be your answer:

Learning Specialist in a Box – Transition Planning

What Does Transition Services Mean?

Transition Services are defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 300.18, as a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process, that promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.

The coordinated set of activities must —

  1. Be based upon the individual student’s needs taking into account the student’s preferences and interests; and (2) include instruction, community experiences, the development of employment and other post- school adult living objectives, and if appropriate, the acquisition of daily living skills and functional evaluation.
  2. Growing up is not easy! It is even more complicated for young adults with disabilities. Far too many students with disabilities leave school lacking the academic, technical, and social skills necessary to find and/or maintain employment, and often the jobs they do find are low paying and offer no health benefits. Identifying the challenges students will face as adults, and preparing and assisting them to meet those demands successfully, requires careful transition planning beginning at the earliest age possible.

Transition Services and the IEP

The Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each student, beginning no later than age 16, must include a statement of needed transition services. Federal law permits the provision of transition services for some students at age 14 or younger, particularly for those at risk of dropping out of school before age 16, or when the provision of these services would be beneficial to any student with a disability and have a positive effect on employment and independent living outcomes. The decision to provide transition services to students younger than age 16 should be made by the IEP team.

Broadly defined, transition is an all-inclusive process that focuses on improving a student’s employment outcomes, housing options, and social networks after leaving school. The transition plan provides the framework for identifying, planning, and carrying out activities that will help a student make a successful transition to adult life. It identifies the type of skills to be learned; and which transition services will be provided, when they will be provided, and the party responsible for providing them. Involving a team of people drawn from different parts of the student’s school and community life, the transition planning process focuses on the unique needs and goals of the student.

The specific needs of the student for post- secondary services should determine who is invited to the IEP transition meeting. It is important to have representatives from various adult agencies and organizations at the meeting, such as mental health agencies, vocational rehabilitation, community colleges, housing, and employment and training agencies. If the school does not invite representatives from adult agencies, the parent or student should do so. If representatives from the agencies do not attend the meeting, the school is required to “take other steps to obtain their participation” in planning the student’s transition services. Although not specified in IDEA, these steps might include arranging for a subsequent IEP meeting to discuss transition issues, contacting a trained advocate, forwarding a copy of the IEP to the agency (with student and parent approval), and maintaining contact with the agency to promote their involvement.

The Transition Plan and Graduation

Students with disabilities can remain in school through age 21 if there are continuing transition needs. These may include, for example, the need to acquire skills necessary for independent living or employment. These needs must be stated in the IEP and must include community-based instruction, learning experiences, and other adult objectives. All provisions of due process in IDEA remain in place throughout the transition process. Young adults who remain in school past the typical graduation date may be able to participate in the commencement activities without receiving their diploma. They would then receive their diploma upon completion of their transition objectives. However, in many state and local agencies, the right to receive transition services from the school district is terminated once the student receives a diploma, even if she/he is under 21. This can present complications for the student, because, before receiving the diploma, all their services were provided through one centralized system-the school district. Now the young adult becomes responsible for not only identifying appropriate adult services, but also for proving their eligibility to receive those services. Thus, it is critical that students and their parents are aware of and think about the school district’s graduation requirements, and how the student’s transition goals will be accomplished before all services from the school district have ceased.

How to Begin Transition Planning

Transition goals cannot be achieved in one year. Transition planning, services, and activities should be approached as a multi-year process. Young adults themselves, along with their parents, play an important role in the transition process. Granted, involving the student in his/her own transition planning is required by law, but perhaps the most important reason for student involvement in transition planning is to facilitate the development of his/her self- determination skills, for these are essential for the student to develop the ability to manage his or her own life. To begin with, examine your family’s values as well as your young adult’s interests, skills, and desires for the future. Encourage your son or daughter to talk about their preferences for the future. These preferences should be the guide for the transition planning process. Involve your child in activities that help him/her become a good decision maker and develop self-advocacy skills. (The Transition Checklist on page 3 can be used in developing the transition plan). Transition services can and should be delivered through curricular and extracurricular activities in many settings-in academic and vocational classrooms, at home, and throughout the community-to practice and reinforce newly acquired skills. The more young adults with disabilities have opportunities to practice their skills in real life situations, the more comfortable and natural they will feel in those settings.


Throughout public school years, the district has had the responsibility of providing the services for the student with disabilities to become a successful learner. The transition from school to adulthood may be complicated because the adult system is very different: there are many public and private agencies that provide services for adults with disabilities. However, unlike educational services, there is no absolute entitlement to those services. In other words, different, more restrictive eligibility criteria, long waiting lists, and uncertain funding may keep a young adult from obtaining services upon leaving school. This is why transition planning at an early age is so critical. Transition services and activities should provide young adults with disabilities with the necessary skills to make informed choices and decisions, and gain full inclusion in society in all aspects of their lives.

Transition Checklist

The following is a checklist of transition activities that you and your son or daughter may wish to consider when preparing transition plans with the IEP team. Your student’s skills and interests will determine which items on the checklist are relevant. Use this checklist to ask yourself whether or not these transition issues should be addressed at IEP transition meetings. The checklist can also help identify who should be part of the IEP transition team. Responsibility for carrying out the specific transition activities should be determined at the IEP transition meetings.

Four to Five Years Before Leaving the School District

  • Identify personal learning styles and the necessary accommodations to be a successful learner and worker.
  • Identify career interests and skills, complete interest and career inventories, and identify additional education or training requirements.
  • Explore options for post- secondary education and admission criteria.
  • Identify interests and options for future living arrangements, including supports.
  • Learn to communicate effectively your interests, preferences, and needs.
  • Be able to explain your disability and the accommodations you need.
  • Learn and practice informed decision making skills.
  • Investigate assistive technology tools that can increase community involvement and employment opportunities.
  • Broaden your experiences with community activities and expand your friendships.
  • Pursue and use local transportation options outside of family.
  • Investigate money management and identify necessary skills.
  • Acquire identification card and the ability to communicate personal information.
  • Identify and begin learning skills necessary for independent living.
  • Learn and practice personal health care.

Two to Three Years Before Leaving the School District

  • Identify community support services and programs (Vocational Rehabilitation, County Services, Centers for Independent Living, etc.)
  • Invite adult service providers, peers, and others to the IEP transition meeting.
  • Match career interests and skills with vocational course work and community work experiences.
  • Gather more information on post secondary programs and the support services offered; and make arrangements for accommodations to take college entrance exams.
  • Identify health care providers and become informed about sexuality and family planning issues.
  • Determine the need for financial support (Supplemental Security Income, state financial supplemental programs, medicare).
  • Learn and practice appropriate interpersonal, communication, and social skills for different settings (employment, school, recreation, with peers, etc.).
  • Explore legal status with regards to decision making prior to age of majority.
  • Begin a resume and update it as needed.
  • Practice independent living skills, e.g., budgeting, shopping, cooking, and housekeeping.
  • Identify needed personal assistant services, and if appropriate, learn to direct and manage these services.

One Year Before Leaving the School District

  • Apply for financial support programs. (Supplemental Security Income, Independent Living Services, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Personal Assistant Services).
  • Identify the post-secondary school you plan to attend and arrange for accommodations.
  • Practice effective communication by developing interview skills, asking for help, and identifying necessary accommodations at post secondary and work environments. * Specify desired job and obtain paid employment with supports as needed.
  • Take responsibility for arriving on time to work, appointments, and social activities.
  • Assume responsibility for health care needs (making appointments, filling and taking prescriptions etc.).
  • Register to vote and for selective service (if a male).

Students with Learning Disabilities: College Success and Proactive Preparation

© Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED

Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that people with bachelor’s degrees will earn approximately $600,000 more during their lifetime than those without an undergraduate degree. This estimate was cited by then Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in his statement before Congress during the authorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. He noted:

More than ever before, education is the fault line between those who will prosper in the new economy, and those who will be left behind. Today’s jobs increasingly require skills and training beyond a high school education, and accessible postsecondary education is critically important to individuals as well as our nation’s economy and democracy. (Price-Ellingstad & Berry, 1999, p. 1, quoting Riley, 1997)

Postsecondary Education

Trends in enrollment of students with disabilities in two- and four-year programs continue to increase, with some estimates ranging from 9.3 percent to as high as 17 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000; NCD, 2000). In spite of this increase, individuals with disabilities still remain less likely to pursue postsecondary education when compared to individuals without disabilities (Whelley, Hart, & Zaft, 2002).

Although the gap for high school completion is closing between individuals with and without disabilities, this trend is not the case in higher education. In fact, completion of some college coursework has declined from 30 percent to 26 percent from 1986 until 2001. Earning a college degree has dropped during this same time period from 19 percent to 12 percent (National Organization on Disability, 2001). Contributing to the lack of persistence and retention of college students with disabilities is the issue of their adapting to an entirely new set of challenges in managing their academic program. Such a student now becomes one of potentially hundreds of students seeking services through a Disability Support Services office on campus. They are responsible for requesting their supports and services, providing documentation to receive these accommodations, and interacting with faculty to implement their supports.

Adjusting to a college environment presents challenges for all students; however, for students with disabilities, the responsibility of managing their accommodations along with their academic coursework presents a set of challenges unique to these students. Often students with disabilities enter college unprepared to disclose their disability, or they lack the understanding of how to access services on campus. Students with disabilities must self- identify to the university to request accommodations and supports. Students fail to self-disclose for a variety of reasons. Some students see college as an opportunity to begin anew. As a result, students may elect not to disclose their disability to the university in order to avoid being labeled (Burgstahler & Doe, 2006; Getzel & McManus, 2005; National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports [NCSPES], 2000). Others wait until they are experiencing academic problems to disclose. Still others feel they do not belong in advanced degree programs because of the need to self-identify for specific services. The decision not to disclose, however, may be the one on which a student’s fate rests.

There is also the issue of faculty attitudes. While it seems hard to fathom that professional educators could be uninformed about the nature of learning disabilities, this in fact does occur. A student unfortunate enough to get such a professor can be made to feel self-conscious, inferior, and/or unwelcome in that classroom. At a critical juncture, when these students need the most support and encouragement, a professor not aware of the needs of students with disabilities may undermine confidence, causing already tentative students to question whether college is indeed the right decision.

Given the inherent risks of college for students with learning disabilities, it makes sense to increase their odds of success by having them learn as much as possible about the postsecondary system prior to transition. Awareness of the pros and cons of disclosure can assist them in making an informed decision rather than an emotional one. Ability to “vet” colleges based on the services they actually offer, not what’s listed in a catalog or website, can play a critical role in eventual success. Advance knowledge of how many courses one can adequately handle and how much support one will need sets students up for success from the first day they cross the college threshold. Knowing how to self-advocate prepares students for their new responsibilities in college. Preparation involves understanding the academic, organizational, and time-management demands of college, as well as teaching students the skills and strategies required for college success while they are still in high school, so they can practice and feel comfortable using them. It also helps for students to have advance knowledge of the potential pitfalls, so they can consciously avoid them.

Students who transition with foreknowledge of college’s unique expectations and how to meet them are more likely to succeed simply because everyone does better in new situations when prepared. For at-risk students with learning disabilities, however, this preparation can often mean the difference between success and failure. As the saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”–and in this case, a college degree, as well.

Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED is an expert college Learning Specialist who focuses exclusively on the critical high school-to-college transition for students with learning disabilities. She is the author of two courses, Conquer College with LD/ADD and College Study Skills, and runs a list serve for parents of high school teens who learn differently. Parents may subscribe at CONQUER COLLEGE WITH LD. You may contact Joan at

Time Management for College Students

by Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED

College Students with Learning Disabilities: A Student’s Perspective

Breaking Through 87 Roadblocks Schools Thrown Your Way

100 Web Tools for Learning with a Disability

Technical Assistance on Transition and the Rehabilitation Act (TATRA) Project

Looking Back and Planning Ahead: Reflections from a College Office of Student Disabilities Services
Written for NCLD by Ross Pollack, Director Specialized Resource Center, Manhattan College

Here is an excellent article from It just addresses ADHD, however. Imagine the increased difficulty if your teen has LD as well. The article thoroughly makes it clear why college is a slippery slope for our teens.

How to Prepare Your ADHD Student for College

How to Prepare Your ADHD Student for College

Too many distractions and not enough structure derail many college students with ADHD. How to help your child prepare for freshman year. by Lois Gilman

Special Education Expenses – Tax Deductible or Not?

by Pat Latham J.D.

A recent IRS private letter ruling dealt with payments to a private school on behalf of two children diagnosed with learning disabilities. The children were attending the private school in order to participate in a special education program designed to help the children deal with their conditions and then progress to a regular school program. The question addressed was whether or not the payments would qualify as tax deductible medical expenses.

In the ruling, the IRS clarified that what matters is not the nature of the school but the special education provided to the student. The letter states: “Deductibility of tuition depends on exactly what the school provides an individual because a school can have a normal education program for most students, and a special education program for those who need it. Thus, a school can be ‘special’ for one student and not for another.” So, the tuition can be deductible even if the school is not a special needs school and is not attended exclusively by children with learning disabilities, as long as participation by a child with learning disabilities in a special program is the reason the principal reason why the child is attending the school.

The IRS concluded that the two children were attending the private school “principally to receive medical care in the form of special education” and that the tuition was deductible as a medical expense. The IRS ruling added that a physician or other qualified professional must diagnose the medical condition (e.g., learning disability) requiring the special education. Also, for the education to be medical care, the education must correct the condition or assist the child in dealing with the condition so that the child can then progress to a regular school program. The school need not have physicians providing the care but must have professionals “competent to design and supervise a curriculum providing medical care.”

Note that medical expenses generally are deductible only to the extent that the medical expense total figure exceeds 7.5% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income figure.

Also, note that a private letter ruling applies only to the taxpayers who requested the ruling, but the ruling is informative as to the IRS’s analysis of the issue. Parents considering the deductibility of special education expenses should consult with their tax advisor.

Patricia H. Latham, is a member of the LDA of America Board of Directors and a Washington, DC attorney, arbitrator and co-author of six books including Learning Disabilities and the Law.

10 Quick Tips for Escaping Overwhelm – In 2010 and Beyond!

National Press Club

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Ann Harrison, 415-637-5262 Valerie C. Chernek, 410-871-2670

April 29, 2009, Washington, DC

The National Press Club – Bookshare announced today a University Partnership Program to significantly increase the availability of accessible materials and textbooks on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of U.S. post-secondary students who have a disability that keeps them from effectively reading printed books.