graduation caps

I want to go to college

by BRIAN CANRIGHT

As a student with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD), you want to go to college for the same reasons as your peers — to create memories, build relationships, develop life skills, and
to be better equipped to enter the job market — but something is holding you back.

Kati and Bonnie

Kati talks to her mom, Bonnie, about her desire to live an independent life. Kati is learning that the best way to prove you
are ready for more independence is by successfully managing the responsibilities you already have. Shepherds College photo

Are you concerned that your parents may not be ready to let you go? If the answer is yes, I want to encourage you to explore your options in partnership with your parents instead of giving up
on your dream.

A few years ago there were only a handful of post secondary opportunities for students with I/DD; however, according to thinkcollege.net, there are now more than 200 programs offering a variety of post secondary options. These opportunities are so new, your parents may not even be aware they exist. With the addition of some specialized programs, post secondary education is more accessible to learners with I/DD than ever before.

As the Lead Recruiter and Transition Coordinator at Shepherds College, I have learned a lot by observing prospective students as they work through the admissions process. I have seen uncertainty on parents’ faces and listened to apprehension in their voices as they share their anxiety at the prospect of their son or daughter with I/DD attending college.

On the other hand, I have also witnessed inspiring examples of students taking the initiative to persuade their parents they are up to the challenge. My hope is to provide you with some helpful ideas concerning how to approach this conversation with your parents. The following tips will help you do just that.

Actions speak louder than words

Every high school student wants more freedom, but not necessarily the responsibility that comes with it. The best way to prove you are ready for more independence is by successfully
managing the responsibilities you already have. If you are currently employed, make the most of it by showing up on time, working hard and developing new skills.

Consider setting aside some money from each paycheck, even if it is a small amount, to save for college. Your parents will make sacrifices for you to go school and so can you. When it comes to
demonstrating you are ready for college, your actions speak louder than words.

Make an appointment

Tell your parents that you’d like to take them out for lunch or coffee to talk about what you would like to do after high school. Follow up by scheduling your outing on a day they don’t have to work; this way they are less likely to be stressed out by what is going on at their job or at home.

Once you’ve scheduled the meeting, put up a visible reminder; you could place a Post-it note on the refrigerator, or create calendar events on your phones.

This approach will demonstrate that you are serious about your desire for more independence and will also serve as evidence that you are growing into a responsible adult.

Be prepared

To prepare for the meeting, do some research about post secondary programs. Go online — thinkcollege.net is a great place to start — and print out information about the different kinds of post secondary options that exist for students with I/DD. Meet with a guidance counselor or an instructor who can work alongside you in preparing a list of promising college programs, and use a folder or binder to organize the information you collect. Exploring post secondary options requires a partnership between the parent and the student, and the time you invest in researching post secondary programs will show you are willing to do your part.

Follow through

Now that you have scheduled the meeting and done your research, it is time to follow through with the commitment you made to meet with your parents. The conversation you are going to
have is only the beginning, not the end, in your journey towards more independence.

If your parents respond in an unexpected way, it is important you remain loving and calm. The thought of you going away to college may be difficult, and parents need time to process
change.

Let them know that you understand their concern, but reassure them that it is all the work they have invested in you that has prepared you for this moment, and now you want one more thing from them — their support as you seek to live an independent life.

Brian Canright is the lead recruiter and transition coordinator for Shepherds College in Union Grove, Wis.

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