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Student With Disabilities Face Added Layer of Issues in Transition to College

Brad McGaw knows that the move from high school to college will likely be a bit more challenging than for most seniors graduating this spring.

In 2nd grade, Brad was diagnosed with three disabilities related to how he learns:  Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), auditory processing disorder, and language processing disorder.

"I have to really think about what I'm going to be saying," says the 18-year-old who just graduated from Dallas Academy, a private school in Dallas. "I might say the wrong thing at the wrong time....and I need to be more focused."

McGaw learns best talking through material and linking it to things he knows. To accommodate his disabilities, teachers read tests aloud and provide additional prompts on open-ended questions. There has been a "whole team behind him...Team Brad," says his mother, Beth McGaw. At Brad's small high school, as students progress the school emphasizes coping and advocacy skills to prepare for the transition to life after graduation.

EdWeek's Sarah Sparks writes about these issues in her recent article, For Students With Disabilities, Transition From High School Requires Self-Advocacy. After years of having individual education programs, or IEPs, in K-12, students in college must navigate new systems on campus, set up accommodations, and become more independent.

At Brad's high school, about 90-95 percent of the school's graduates go on to some kind of postsecondary education. There is no tracking of how many go on to graduate, but McGaw is determined to be one who earns a four-year degree.

"I have the capability of graduating from college," says McGaw. "A lot of people have been supportive of me going to college, but there are a few that won't believe I will able to graduate from college. I really want to prove them wrong."

To up his chances of completion, McGaw sought out colleges that had support for students with learning disabilities. He chose Lynn University, a 2,000-student private school in Boca Raton, Fla., where he will study hospitality. Lynn has an Institute for Achievement and Learning designed for students with diagnosed learning disabilities, which is used by about one-quarter of students. Brad will meet weekly with an academic coach and will be assigned a mentor, who is a full-time staff member to help students adjust to campus and the social scene.

Last summer, McGaw spent three weeks in a transition program for kids with ADHD at Landmark College, in Putney, Vt.  He was exposed to college-level classes, stayed in a dorm, and had to get himself up in the mornings. "It was a lot to handle," says McGaw. "It did prepare me for college."

Adds Beth McGaw about her son going to college: "It's a dream come true, given the obstacles he's had...He's gotten this far so I see no reason why he is not going to graduate from college."

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