Pros and cons of disclosing learning and thinking differences in college

By Rae Jacobson, MS

From the time kids apply to college to the start of classes, they’ll have many new decisions to make. Choosing if, when, and how to disclose learning or thinking differences will be one of the biggest. Here are some factors to consider.

DisclosureProsConsThings to know
During the application process

Disclosing a learning or thinking difference when applying can help schools get a better picture how your child learns.

Let’s say your child’s grades or SAT scores fall below the average for that school. Disclosing can help admissions officers understand the issues behind the scores.

It’s not common, but some schools may have an uninformed view of learning and thinking differences. They may see them as a barrier to entry.

In those cases, the schools might not be a good fit for students who learn differently, anyway.

Kids don’t have to disclose when applying. And just talking to college officials about potential services and supports isn’t the same as disclosing. Kids are free to ask as many questions as they want.

If kids want to disclose, they must put something in writing on the application.

To the disability services office

 

By disclosing here (after enrolling at college), kids are formally applying for services. (There are no IEPs in college, however, and services may vary.)

Disclosing doesn’t just help kids with their courses. It can also help with social issues by building their communication skills. And it gives them access to professionals who understand their challenges.

None. This is a win-win situation. Disclosing to disability services doesn’t obligate students to use the supports offered. It just gives them the option.

Disability services staff members won’t share students’ information without their permission. Not with their professors or with their parents.

In fact, they won’t discuss your child with you at all unless your child signs a release for them to do so and requests it.

To professors

Opening up a dialogue with professors about learning and thinking differences is a great way for students to build their self-advocacy skills, which can be helpful in the working world, too.

Many college classes are large and professors don’t always have the time to get to know individual students.

Taking the initiative to talk with professors helps them put a face to the name. It also shows that they’re taking an active role in their education.

Disclosing to professors will help them know how to support students both in and out of class. (Students who have disclosed to disabilities services will be able to provide professors with a letter from disability services listing approved accommodations.)

Not all professors will be open to helping. Some may only provide the formal accommodations your child has — and nothing more.

Student won’t know how professors will react until they talk to them.

Students can decide which professors they’d like to discuss her their challenges with, and how they want to bring it up.

For example: If your child has dyscalculia, it might help to talk with the math professor, but not the literature professor.

If students are disclosing to disability services, they might want to wait for the official paperwork regarding accommodations before talking to professors.

To friends and classmates

Disclosing to peers can be a great way to build a supportive community at college. And it’s a way to practice self-advocacy.

It can help kids connect with other students who also have learning and thinking differences. That may be a confidence-booster.

Friends can also offer support. For example, if someone can’t go to a party because of needing more time for homework, friends will understand.

Sharing important personal information with new friends can feel scary. Kids won’t know what the reaction will be until they try sharing. It may also expose them to misperceptions of what learning and thinking differences are.

Opening up about learning and thinking differences isn’t just about finding support. It’s an invitation for friends to share as well.

Kids might find themselves in a position where they can help and support other students in similar situations. And that can be a very enriching experience.

Making the transition to college can be harder for kids with learning and thinking differences. Disclosing their issues allows them to get as much support as possible. Talk over the pros and cons. Get tips on how to make the transition easier. Your continued support is as important as ever as they take this exciting step forward.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Rae Jacobson, MS is a writer who focuses on ADHD and learning disabilities in women and girls.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Elizabeth C. Hamblet, MAT, MSEd is the author of