To Disclose or Not: Dealing with Learning Differences
A critical element of just about every application is the student’s ability to bring clarity to the interpretation of his/her academic record. In other words, when there are irregularities in a student’s program and/or performance, s/he has a “story” to tell. The context for such stories, or explanations, often rests in factors that are beyond the student’s control i.e. injury, illness, family moves, parental difficulties, etc. In the absence of explanations, though, admission officers must guess about the circumstances—and that rarely bodes well for the candidate as admission folks are more often cynical than charitable in their estimations!
A circumstance frequently raised in this regard is that relating to a student’s documented learning difference. Specifically, families often wonder if or how the presence of “Individual Educational Plans” (IEPs) in the student’s academic experience should be conveyed in the application for admission without prejudicing the candidacy. While there are few solutions that fit every situation, it is important to consider the manner in which information is shared with the institution, first, with regard to the student’s candidacy for admission and, then, as it relates to securing necessary support for the student once enrolled.
In terms of admission, I would err on the side of meaningful disclosure. Give the admission committee the full picture so it can make a balanced evaluation of your credentials. Places that value you for what you do well will try to find ways to admit and support you. Providing an awareness of a learning difference for which you are compensating may give them greater confidence in their respective abilities to help you find success. On the other hand, you can’t worry about schools that might not admit you. The odds are that they would not have been good fits for you in the long run anyway.
That said, you cannot count on the admission office to pass along the documentation of academic support needs to folks in the academic program. While such information might indeed be passed along on a “need to know” basis, it is routinely purged from applicant files (in the spirit of confidentiality) after a student makes the decision to enroll. Regardless, plan to present documentation of your learning difference and need for support to the counseling center/disability office after you have enrolled. Don’t assume they will have gotten the information from the admission office.
According to educational consultant, Allen Tinkler, in a note to colleagues on the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) listserve, “one of the biggest errors kids/ families make…is the assumption that just because the documentation was sent, whether to admissions or to disability support services, the college will provide accommodations and services. This is not true. The student must…self-identify and go through some kind of intake interview, discuss accommodations requested, sometimes negotiate, and learn the procedures at the college. This is done with CURRENT, COMPLETE and APPROPRIATE documentation.”
Allen further observes, and I agree wholeheartedly, that students need to learn to be “strong self-advocates.” At his former school, “each student with an IEP or 504 plan was given a complete set of documentation…at a final meeting with parents present (and) instructed that it was now up to them to take the responsibility of receiving accommodations at college. They were instructed that sometime between the distribution of those papers and the beginning of classes at college they needed to contact the disability coordinator, present themselves and their papers. We were literally passing the baton over to them.”
Ownership and the assumption of personal responsibility are vital to your success in all aspects of life. So seize the opportunity! During the senior year, and certainly by the time you graduate, step forward and accept responsibility. Make a difference with regard to the direction you will take during your college years and beyond!
Source: The Admission Game
Yes … I work in a large public university in the office of Disability Services. We provide accommodations for about 1000 students with disabilities. Almost all schools now have detailed information on their website about their disability services office and the requirements for registering with that office and documentation requirements.My advice to students in apply for colleges is to NOT disclose that you have a disability. Legally, the disability is not a consideration in the admissions process because the law states that students must be "otherwise qualified", which means that they must have the same qualifications as any other student, however they are entitled to accommodations in order to meet those requirements.If a student is denied admissions because they do not meet the admissions criteria, there is always the appeals process. Sometimes at this stage it might be appropriate to appeal the admissions decision because of extinuating circumstances resulting from the disability. It would not be appropriate to say that the students gpa was lower than required because they have a learning disability. They must still meet the same requirements regardless.However, if the student perhaps was not diagnosed until 11th grade or was not receiving proper accommodations until 11th grade which affected his overall gpa that may be a factor the admissions committee may want to consider. Sometimes students are hospitalized during high school as a result of their disability or are homebound status for a period of time and that may also have an affect on their overall gpa as well. Many admissions committees who are hearing an appeal may very well consider such extinuating circumstances that are a result of the disability.Lastly, I caution you about using the term "learning differences". Once you are out of K-12 and are in higher education, everything is based on ADA laws. a "learning difference" is NOT a disability and therefore is not entitled to services and accommodations. Only individuals with documented DISABILITIES are protected under ADA.I have been at my college for 15 years in disability services. At my school as well as most others that I work with, if we were to receive documentation that says "learning difference" that would not be sufficient documentation to register with our office for accommodations. We have to have documentation that there is a quantifiable disability to be a student with a disability and has a right to accommodations under ADA.I hope this information helps!