In Part 1 of this series, we outlined the differences between ADA college accommodations and high school 504 plans/IEPs. In today’s post, we provide a step-by-step explanation of how to get accommodations for autism and ADHD in college.
Individualized education plans (IEPs) and 504 plans—which provide support for high school students with disabilities—only last through high school graduation. If your child is autistic, has ADHD, or was diagnosed with another mental health condition, you may be wondering how to get accommodations for them in college.
How to help your child get accommodations in college
The accommodations request process isn’t terribly time-consuming, but it is best to start early. If your child’s accommodations aren’t approved until several weeks into their first semester, they might begin to fall behind. Ensure a strong start for your child by having them initiate the following process as soon as possible:
1. Identify your child’s strengths and areas of support
If your child had an IEP or 504 plan in high school, their accommodation needs are already well-documented. If your child did not have a high school plan (or their high school plan didn’t work out for them), we recommend working with an autism therapist or ADHD specialist. An experienced therapist can provide a detailed assessment and diagnosis for your child. They can also help them understand their condition and how it is affecting them.
At first, it may be uncomfortable for your child to reflect on all the ways they’re struggling, but this work is the only way to identify areas of support. Working with a professional can also help your child overcome any shame or stigma associated with their diagnosis and become more willing to accept help.
2. Learn about their rights and responsibilities
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects disabled college students, is not as comprehensive as the laws covering high school students. As we explained in Part 1, high school students generally receive more attention and individualized support. Read Part 1 to learn more about the differences between high school IEPs/504 plans and ADA college accommodations.
The ADA guarantees a disabled college student “equal access” to public education. According to the ADA, post-secondary schools cannot deny someone’s admission simply because they have a disability. Schools must respond to accommodation requests promptly, and they are not allowed to charge for the accommodations they provide. Learn more about your child’s rights and responsibilities under the ADA.
Every school handles the accommodations process differently. Have your child contact their school’s disabilities services office to learn more about their procedures and requirements.
3. Have them learn self-advocacy skills
In high school, your child’s special education was likely managed by you and someone at their school. In college, it will be your child’s responsibility to obtain and oversee accommodations. Self-advocacy skills will be essential for this job.
If your child struggles to put their needs into words, have them practice talking about their condition with a therapist or coach. In college, they might encounter people who question their right to accommodations, so they must be prepared to defend themselves. There is a fine line between asking for accommodations and demanding them, but an experienced therapist can help your child walk that line.
Students who are organized, polite, and detail-oriented will navigate the accommodations process more quickly. Identify areas where your child may be struggling so you can provide therapy, disability coaching, or some other education/support.
You should also encourage your child to familiarize themselves with their school’s appeals process. If your child encounters any discrimination or believes their request has been unfairly denied, they will need this information to file an appeal. Every school should have a grievance procedure and a disability coordinator your child can contact.
4. Submit a formal accommodations request
It is not enough for your child to mention their desire for accommodations to a professor or advisor. Your child must reach out to their school’s disabilities office (sometimes called office for accessible education or something similar) and complete a formal accommodations request form. The form will ask about the nature of the requested accommodations and why they are needed. Depending on the school’s procedures, it may be a paper form, an emailed PDF, or an online document accessible through their online student portal.
5. Provide documentation of a disability
Your child’s school will likely require documented evidence of your child’s disability. By law, they can ask for whatever documentation they want, so long as the request is “reasonable.” According to the U.S. Department of Education, the documentation requested must also be “narrowly tailored to the information needed to determine the nature of the candidate’s disability.”[i]
The U.S. Department of education encourages but does not require schools to limit their documentation requirements to two items or fewer. Here are some examples of documentation types your child’s school might ask for:
- An evaluation completed during high school
- An IEP or 504 plan from high school
- A detailed letter from a pediatrician or psychologist describing the diagnosis
- A form completed by the student’s current psychologist or other treating professional
- A written statement by the student documenting their previous accommodations
If your child does not have the required documentation, they will need to obtain it on their own time and at their own expense. In rare cases, schools also require students to undergo an internal evaluation involving a variety of tests.
6. Attend an intake appointment (if required)
Intake appointments are part of some school’s accommodations processes. If asked to attend an intake appointment, your child can prepare for it by writing down a list of their requested accommodations and any questions they have. To avoid feeling unprepared, your child can also for a list of talking points before the appointment.
If your child wants you to be present at their intake appointment, they will probably need to sign a release form giving you permission. During the meeting, avoid the temptation to speak for your child. Disabilities services staff usually prefer to hear directly from students, but you can still be there to fill in the blanks if your child needs help answering something.
7. Implement, fine-tune, and renew accommodations
After your child has completed all the steps required by the disability services office, their application will be approved or denied. If it is rejected, they will need to appeal the decision according to the university’s formal process.
If their application is approved, they will receive a letter or email of accommodations that outlines the academic adjustments they are entitled to. The disability office may share this letter with your child’s professors, but most schools require that the student follow up with their instructors directly. Also, it’s important to remember that many professors have many students to keep track of. They’ll likely need reminders about individual accommodations .
Your child may need to work with their professor to arrange certain accommodations. For example, if your child is entitled to a note taker, they will likely need their professor’s help finding someone in class to take the notes. If they take tests in a different room, their professor will need to know with advance notice. It’s important to remember that, in college, it’s the responsibility of the student to make sure they do what’s needed to receive their accommodations. Having your child work with their professor makes everything go smoother!
If your child has any problems getting the accommodations they’ve been approved for, they may need to follow up with the disability services office. It is also your child’s responsibility to ensure that their accommodations are working as intended. Should they discover that the adjustments are not as helpful as they had hoped, they may need to contact the disability office to make a change.
Remember: your child’s accommodations are not “set it and forget it.” Your child will need to renew them every quarter or semester, depending on their school’s schedule.
Get Additional Support to Ensure Success
Sometimes, even with accommodations, college can be difficult with autistic and ADHD students. With the additional support of an autism therapist or ADHD specialist, college can feel less overwhelming. Send us a message to see how we can help or book a free 20 minute consultation call with one of our psychologists: Dr. Lee, Dr. Barajas, or Dr. Goldman.