Pros and Cons of Disclosing Learning and Thinking Differences in College
Rae Jacobson, MS
From the time your child
applies to college to the start of classes, she’ll have many new decisions to make. Choosing if, when and how to disclose her learning or thinking differences will be one of the biggest. Here are some factors to consider.
Things to Know
During the Application Process
Disclosing a learning or thinking difference when applying can help schools get a better picture of your child and how she learns.
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.
Your child doesn’t have to disclose when applying. And just talking to college officials about potential services and supports isn’t the same as disclosing. Your child is free to ask as many questions as she wants.
If she wants to disclose, she must put something in writing on her application.
To Disability Services
By disclosing here (after she has enrolled at college), your child is formally applying for services. (There are no IEPs in college, however, and services may vary.)
Disclosing doesn’t just help her with her courses. It can also help with social issues by building her communication skills. And it gives her access to professionals who understand her issues.
None. This is a win-win situation. Disclosing to disability services doesn’t obligate your child to use the supports offered. It just gives her the option.
Disability services staff members won’t share your child’s information without her permission. Not with her professors or with you.
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.
Opening up a dialogue with professors about her learning and thinking differences is a great way for your child to build her 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 her professors helps them put a face to her name. It also shows she’s taking an active role in her education.
Disclosing to professors will help them know how to support her both in and out of class. (If she has disclosed to disabilities services, she’ll be able to provide her professors with a letter from disability services listing her approved accommodations.)
Not all professors will be open to helping. Some may only provide the formal accommodations your child has—and nothing more.
Your child won’t know how her professors will react until she talks to them.
Your child can pick and choose which professors she’d like to discuss her issues with, and how she wants to bring it up.
For example: If she has dyscalculia, it might help for her to talk with the math professor. But she doesn’t have to share that information with her literature professor.
If she’s disclosing to disability services, she might want to wait to talk to her professors until after she has official paperwork regarding accommodations to give them.
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 your child connect with other students who also have learning and thinking differences. That may be a confidence-booster.
Friends can also support her efforts. For example, if she can’t go to a party because she still hasn’t finished her work, they’ll understand and not pressure her.
Sharing important personal information with new friends can feel scary. Your child won’t know what the reaction will be until she does. It may also expose her to misperceptions of what learning and thinking differences are.
Opening up about her learning and thinking differences isn’t just about the support your child can find. It’s an invitation for friends to share as well.
Your child might find herself in a position where she 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 with your child. Get tips on how to
make the transition easier. Your continued support is as important as ever as she takes this exciting step forward.