Thousands of students with learning and thinking differences have just graduated from high school. Many are already preparing for their first day of college. David Carson, who dubs himself “The LD Coach,” wants to be sure they have everything they need to succeed.
Carson is a certified respiratory therapist, but he hasn’t practiced since 2007. Instead, he’s devoted himself full time to helping teens with learning and thinking differences make the transition to college.
The most important thing, Carson tells the kids he counsels, is to ask for what you need. Make sure your college knows the accommodations you need to be successful.
He speaks from his own experience. Carson has written expression disorder. He hadn’t been diagnosed, but he struggled with reading and writing in school. In high school, he did well in math, science and football, he says. He even made all-state.
Carson was invited to attend North Carolina State to play football. But at the time he was so anxious about making the transition to college that he turned them down.
Among college students with learning disabilities, only about one in five get support. That’s a far cry from the 94 percent of students with learning disabilities who get services in school before college.
“I know why many kids with learning disabilities don’t self-identify,” Carson says. “College for them is a new start with new friends and a new chance to reinvent themselves. They don’t want to talk about the challenges of the past. But the truth is, colleges cannot help you unless you open up to them.”
Carson did give college a try. He failed at three of them: Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ohio University, and Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.
Then, at age 25, he was finally tested to find out if he had a learning difference. He discovered that he did. He also found out that he was considered gifted.
Once his writing issue was identified, Carson found out how he learns and what accommodations help him. And he learned how to build on his strengths.
First, Carson switched to vocational training. There was “less paperwork, and it was more visual, more tactile and more conducive to my learning style,” he says.
He went on to earn diplomas in respiratory therapy at St. Francis Medical Center and at Northwestern University. He also got a B.A. in natural and health sciences from La Roche College in Pittsburgh, where he had a GPA of 3.91, he says.
Carson’s mission to help kids with learning and thinking differences transition to college is not new. In 2002, he self-published a 33-page spiral-bound book, Survival Guide for College-Bound LD Students. He has continued to revise and update it. Now the book has grown to 157 pages.
His guide includes not only his story, but also plenty of how-to information. It offers step-by-step help for everything from writing a research paper to giving an oral report. There’s also information about legal rights. And there are tips on self-advocacy.
Carson’s website lists dozens of colleges that have bought the book, including Clemson University and Binghamton University. He sells between 300 and 600 copies each year from his website.
Carson has also been speaking about learning differences and transition issues at conferences and on campuses. He’s led seminars. Between now and the start of fall semester, he’ll be talking at conferences in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
The goal of all these projects: to give kids with learning differences the benefits of the lessons he had to learn the hard way.
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About the author
Geri Coleman Tucker is a freelance writer and editor and a former deputy managing editor for