Support Services for Students with Disabilities

Parents in Transition

The Transition from High School to College

A Guide for Students with Disabilities and their Parents

The transition from high school to college can be a very difficult process for students with disabilities. The laws governing college/university education are different from those governing K-12 and so is the accommodation process. Students with disabilities who received accommodations in high school should be aware that colleges/universities do not necessarily provide the same accommodations set forth in their IEP or 504 Plan. What follows is an explanation of the differences between IDEA (governing K-12) and 504/ADA (governing post-secondary education)

High schools must:

Post-secondary institutions must:

Substantially Limits means unable to perform a major life activity, or significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed, in comparison to the average person or most people. (Jane Jarrow, 1992)

Post-secondary institutions are not required to:

The student is responsible for:

*Some of this material was borrowed from North Carolina State University’s Disability Services Office.

Important Things to Remember

In high school, students with diagnosed disabilities are entitled to specific services and accommodations. In college, the severity and degree of functional impact of the disability is taken into consideration when determining whether accommodations are appropriate—a diagnosis alone does not determine eligibility. Also, these accommodations are intended to provide access, not ensure success.

Students who attend college are considered to be adults, protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). University staff cannot talk to parents about confidential information, including academic activities. Parents need to talk to the student directly. Students act as responsible adults when disclosing disabilities and requesting accommodations.

Documentation requirements are different at every school. It is the student’s responsibility to know and understand the university’s documentation policy and procedures. Documentation should be current, verify the disability, describe the extent/severity of the impairment, provide information on the functional impact of the disability, and offer university appropriate recommendations.

What is Self-Determination?

Why Facilitate Self-Determination?

Because Self-determined Students:

Why is Self-determination Important for Students in Post-Secondary Education?

Self-determination is a critical skill for success in higher education, because once students with disabilities graduate from high school, they are no longer entitled to the individual services detailed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In the post-secondary setting, people with disabilities must disclose their need for accommodation to the Office of Disability Services, which determines their eligibility for accommodations. Students with disabilities may need to explain their accommodations to others (professors, roommates), and advocate for accommodations not readily offered.

Furthermore, all of the elements of self-determination described above are essential skills for one to achieve any goal. Thus, a college student must believe that she can be successful, be able to make logical decisions, act independently, and evaluate and adjust their actions as necessary to meet their goals and objectives.

Parents’ Role Within the Self-Determination Model

  1. Listen. Be there to provide support and consultation, but give your son or daughter the space to figure it out on their own. Resist the urge to “take over” the problem.
  2. Encourage them to make connections. Direct your son or daughter to talk with the Office of Academic Support, their professors, their advisor, and other individuals who can assist them while at Lehigh.
  3. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Let them learn from their experiences.
  4. It’s a different world. Students live in a different world than when we were their age. They need to set their own goals and take ownership of their education.
  5. Working Together. The Office of Academic Support welcomes parents’ appropriate involvement. Recent studies suggest that active parental support fosters the development of self-determination. However:
    • Be aware that because of FERPA, post-secondary professionals cannot share information with parents without that student’s written permission.
    • Be mindful of “triangulation”. Direct and honest communication with your son or daughter is the most effective way to teach them responsibility.
  6. Trust the Process. Our role is to guide the students through this developmental process in order to become independent and responsible adults.