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4 strategies to help prepare your special needs teen for college

teen-girl-in-wheelchairEach fall, millions of parents send their teens off to college, hopeful that they’re ready to be independent. For families who have teens with special care needs, a few extra steps may be necessary to ensure a smooth transition.

“In families where a child has special care needs or chronic health problems, the parents have been so involved in caring for their child that it’s often hard for them to change that role and focus on daily opportunities to teach the child to be as independent as possible,” said Nicole Swain, PsyD, a pediatric psychologist in Akron Children’s Hospital’s NeuroDevelopmental Science Center.

Although a teen may be old enough to take of herself, if she hasn’t been able to practice and master certain skills, she may not be ready.

Dr. Swain recommends promoting your teen’s independence gradually, at the start of high school, so you’ll have plenty of time to work on areas where your teen needs extra help.

Dr. Nicole Swain

Dr. Nicole Swain

Follow these 4 strategies to help your teen become more independent:

  • Instead of organizing your teen’s day, let him assume more of those responsibilities, such as keeping track of activities in a planner or anticipating what he will need to take with him.
  • Let your teen take more responsibility for her self-care, whether it’s getting dressed on her own or making her own lunch. Although things may take longer, resist the temptation to do it for her.
  • If your teen takes daily medications or has other medical needs, transition this responsibility to him. Doing this early will give you time to supervise the process, until it becomes second nature.
  • During doctor appointments, let your teen answer the questions and communicate what’s going on. You can jump in if something is missed, but let your teen build these important communication skills.

Tips for college success

Once you know where your teen will be going to college, contact the Office of Disability Services, which can help you by:

  • Strategizing on the physical and/or academic accommodations that are needed. Although the Individualized Education Program (IEP) usually follows the teen from high school to college, there may be other things to consider.
  • Coordinating the necessary accommodations.
  • Serving as a liaison to other campus departments.
  • Connecting your teen to other campus resources.
  • Pairing your teen with an on-campus mentor.

If your teen has medical needs, contact the campus health center, so the staff will be aware. Likewise, your teen will know where to go for help.