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Mar 24, 2021

Is your child with special education needs college bound?  What do they need to get there? And where is there?


Today, Special Education Attorney Laura Heneghan shares her journey helping her children navigate transition skills for college and what questions to ask.  


You can find both Laura and me at




and you can reach Laura directly at Laura @SpecialEd.Law


The TRANSCRIPT for this episode can be found in the show notes at



TRANSCRIPTS (not proofread)



college, child, brogan, student, learning, school, high school, kids, accommodations, disabilities, people, classes, absolutely, professors, parents, skills, learning disabilities, capable, dyslexia, campus


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney, Dana Jonson


Dana Jonson  00:02

Hello, and welcome to need to know with Dana Jonson. I'm your host, Dana Jonson. And I'm here to give you the information you need to know to best advocate for your child. And a special education attorney in private practice. A former special education teacher and administrator, a current mom to four children with IPS and I myself have ADHD and dyslexia. So I've approached the world of disability and special education from many angles. And I'll provide straightforward information about your rights and your schools obligations, information from other professionals on many topics, as well as tips and tricks for working with your school district. My goal is to empower you through your journey. So please subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss any new episodes. And I want to know what you want to know. So like, follow and drop me a note on my need to know with Dana Jonson Facebook page. Okay, let's get started. Hello, today I am speaking with Laura Hannigan. Hello, Laura. Thank you for joining me. Thank you. Laura has been with us before she works with me in my office. And the reason Laura that I wanted to have you on again, is to talk about taking her children from learning disabilities and other disabilities in school to college, because that is a step that I find very difficult for typically developing students forget disabilities. And it's it's complicated enough as it is, but I know you have some in depth experience with it. So why am I asking you? Why are you the person I'm coming to to talk to me about getting kids with disabilities into college? Let's start there.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  01:37

Okay, well, aside from professional experience I've personally experienced in this area, I have three children, and the oldest, my son Brogan has dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. And he is currently in his last semester of college. So I feel like I'm here. So I can talk a bit about the journey and some of the things I've learned and would be happy to share with your listeners.


Dana Jonson  02:01

That is awesome. So when can we start worrying about college, I have one student, I have one child, I shouldn't say student, one child of mine, who was adopted an older age, so I didn't get to know her until she was 13. But at 13, I was told she would not go to college that was not her trajectory, and that we should be looking at something else. And then I have my own biological children who from the very beginning, I presumed that college would be the end goal no matter what. And you know, I've had to adjust that perspective from time to time. And now I'm back on College Track for some of them. But when we make that decision,


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  02:38

as I said, Bergen is my oldest three children, two of them are in college, and one is currently a junior in high school. So I always did look at freshmen and sophomore years, kind of the free years where they could just enjoy school, I could have them enjoy school, and not worry about things until that, you know, critical junior year. But I found one Brogan was in 10th grade was when I really started thinking about it because like you I wasn't sure if he would be capable of handling college going away to school what our options were. In addition to his learning disabilities, he had a lot of social anxiety. So we didn't know what he was capable of. And as we all know, kids continue to mature well into their 20s. So looking at somebody at 10th grade is a totally different thing than what they're going to eventually end up to be so


Dana Jonson  03:28

but I think and I just want to jump in because what you said is really great is you're not just talking about academics, right? Oh, yeah. I they're talking about learning to live by college. And and that experience in and of itself is something it's monumental. I mean, it's really big.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  03:45

Absolutely. So, you know, in the way that I work is usually I like to research things. So if you're old enough, you probably recall the back of the big Barron's book of colleges. And I love flipping through that and they actually have an addition that's for programs with colleges and universities with programs for kids with learning disabilities.


Dana Jonson  04:05

And they just updated it, they just updated it, it came out in February, I know cuz I've ordered it.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  04:10

So really not involving him yet, because of the anxiety issue. I got that and kind of flipped through to get an idea of what the options would be. And one thing I was glad I noticed at that early stage was that many more schools became even a possibility if you have two years of a foreign language, so for them to even to consider admission, they want those two years almost despite how your child does in the class. Like many kids with dyslexia, Brogan had a foreign language language waiver. So he had not taken Spanish or French or whatever they were offering and as freshmen and sophomore year so we did end up enrolling him in his junior and senior year solely for the ability to open up that kind of extra level of colleges based on the requirements


Dana Jonson  04:58

and I found that in our in our high school. Anyway, they don't require it. So I struggled with that, because I was saying My child is going to need two years of language. And they were saying, nope, No, they don't. And then I was like, well, I need a language waiver, because I have one child with nonverbal learning disability and learning a foreign language is next to impossible. So, and they wouldn't give it to me because if not required to graduate from high school. So right parent, yeah, so I want to talk about that, at some point, how we address those barriers to?


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  05:29

Well, it's funny, I think colleges are becoming more aware of the two because more are offering things like ASL. Because if you American Sign Language, if you have a kid who struggles with reading and writing in English, and you're requiring them that they take a foreign language, you're just asking for failure for them, which is, it's just not really, you know, fair to the kid. And I know, when Brogan started taking Spanish in his high school, he was running into a lot of issues. And we kind of, you know, step back and look and and it turned out he wasn't getting the same accommodations in Spanish, like a word bank. He was not he was being penalized for spelling and things that in English, he was not being penalized for. But he wasn't Spanish. So we kind of had to get, you know, the whole team on board that the combinations carry across. Yeah, I wouldn't have even thought of that. Do that. And everyone, it was kind of a lightbulb moment for everybody. It was like, Oh, yeah, that that totally makes sense. We had just never thought of that. Yeah. So we were fortunate that his high school took a bunch of students on a college tour in the summer between sophomore and junior year. So he was able to be exposed to different campuses, different cultures on campus size locations, kind of without the parental lens being on it, which I thought was great. And it was a really good opportunity. I grew up in New York State and basically had the choice of any new york state school, I could get into sight unseen. So I wasn't really a true believer in needing to visit colleges, it was like apply to them get into the best one, you can and go there. Because Brogan has seen schools, we were able to kind of limit it to he didn't want to be urban, he didn't want to be an engineering, he didn't want to be that far away from home. So then we kind of drew a, you know, three hour radius around where we were, and figured we'd start looking at programs that had learning disability programs, kind of an official program. And just as an aside, there's kind of three main levels. So there are, every college has to have a disabilities office to address any accommodations for any students disabilities. And with that, they can sometimes offer some tutoring services or some accommodations that like extra time, then you've got kind of a middle level tier where you could maybe pay for some tutoring, or the school has like a peer tutoring section or something that the kids can go to for a little extra help. And then you've got kind of the full blown, usually additional tuition learning program that's a little more structured, we started visiting those high level, you know, learning structured ones. And it was really interesting to me, because I wouldn't have believed the benefit in the visit. Until one day, we were on a campus that on paper was a perfect fit for him. And we took our tour and the program was great. The people were great. But he and I walking around the campus, he said, I don't see any other Bourbons here. And that was a really high impact moment for me both his awareness of that and that he needed to feel like he fit wherever he was going. So that really changed my perception of what it was to visit a college. And honestly, there were some that we pulled up to and he was like, nope. And we just kept driving. And I found the exact same experience with my daughter, Kylie, there were places that we'd pull up to and it didn't feel right. Or there was something that just didn't feel like it was a place that she wanted to be. And I realized kind of how important at least in our situation with my kids that it was a really important piece.


Dana Jonson  09:08

Yeah, yeah, definitely that fit and, and getting a vibe for it too, because I was presumed not unlike high schools and other schools, just because they have a program on paper that appears perfect for you. Doesn't mean it it. Absolutely. We run into that all the time with students in elementary or middle or high school. Like Yes, well, this program may be great for a lot of kids with disability or with dyslexia, but it's not working for this kid with dyslexia. So we have to look at something different. So I think that's a great point that that individualizing doesn't change just because they're going to college. It still needs to be an individual is because if the child doesn't buy in or doesn't feel comfortable, you're not going to get out of them their best.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  09:54

Exactly. And I think for different kids, the level of that might be different, but for him it Was it was really important. And we came across his current university where they don't have a specific program. But we went in, and we talked to his the Learning Support Group. And we presented his current testing and his IPS. And they really felt that they could support him. And it was a, it was a campus that felt good to all of us. So we identified another campus that was a good fit that had an additional PE program. And we decided he would apply to both of those early but non binding so that if we needed to continue the application process, we could, but for him applying to too many schools would have been overwhelming. So we kind of picked his top two choices, and did the early application for those. And he ended up getting into both Yeah, he broken. He actually liked the one with the less formal program. And that worried us a little bit. So his high school support teachers actually got on the phone with the university and talked about the services that they could offer to him and got us all comfortable that it was a really good fit. Most importantly, was he felt like that university wanted him. And in the end, the decision was his Yeah, it was he really felt like they wanted him to be there. I think in in going through the process, there are a couple things that were really helpful, you know, we went and visited and we spoke to the people that run the disability offices and, you know, going with a list of prepared questions to ask and write down the answers. Because once you visit more than two colleges, you forget what somebody else said, you know, and bring the list of accommodations your kid is currently getting so that you know what works and what doesn't work. And you need to go in making sure that your your child knows what their strengths and their vulnerabilities are. And if they're not sure help them to kind of figure it out because it at the college level, whether they're 18 or not, when they go to college college is going to treat them like an adult. And they're going to have to advocate a bit more for themselves and know their profile as a learner. So that they can ask for help during the process. And they need to really notify their professors, each professor of the accommodations they need. Now, if they want to struggle with that, there's people that can facilitate it and support them. But it's kind of good to know going in that they've got to be a little more responsible for that kind of stuff.


Dana Jonson  12:22

When I think that's an important skill that we say all the time. Kids need to learn how to self advocate and we talked about it, we talked about it. But what does that look like? And what does that look like in real life. And what that looks like is being able to find that learning center, if that's the school that you're going to one where you have to seek it out yourself. Because as you're talking about these three tiers, what I'm understanding is there some that just offer whatever the federal law makes them offer, right, you have to offer certain level of accommodation reasonable accommodations under the ADA, then you get to the next step where they found the services, but you have to seek them out and get them yourself. And then the third level would be an integrated program.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  13:03

Correct. And one of the things we found really helpful was he set up weekly appointments, because left to make the decision in the moment about Should I go get help or not was something that was difficult for him. But when he had an appointment on his schedule, he would go every single time. So that was really, really helpful. The other thing I found really helpful, which my kids absolutely hated, is when you're on the campus, stop other students and ask them what they think about the school, and about the food and about the professors and about the dorms. And all of those parts that we you know, refer to earlier all part of the experience. And who better to tell you but somebody who's currently there, because it's really not all about the academics. It's a change in where you live, what you eat your friends, how you maintain your hygiene, it's, you know, you've probably never shared a bathroom with 20 other people before. So it's really different. And Brogan joined the ultimate frisbee team as a freshman. And that was a great choice for him. Because it kept him busy. It gave him exercise, and it kind of gave him a built in social group. And that was one of the things that I contribute to his success at school. And personally, I made the decision to not obsess about grades. And to this day, I actually don't know what any of his college grades are. I know he attends class. And we'll get to how I know that. And I know he's not failed any classes. And he's graduating in four years. So grades. You know, when I talked to him, I asked, Are you happy? Are you working hard? Are you doing well? And those are the things that I chose to focus on. Because for him the accomplishments in all of those areas were so huge.


Dana Jonson  14:40

Yeah. And I think when you're going to college, either you're in or you're out, right. So when when you're when you're looking at high school grades, you're worried about those grades because of what they bring you to NES and in college, at least my personal philosophy is you made it right you're there now. Can you stay there and make it through, because unless you are planning to do something very specific, many times your class rank doesn't actually matter. your GPA doesn't actually matter. Obviously, if you're failing or an academic probation, those are different stories. But as a rule, you know, you're not looking for that next competitive school. I mean, if you are going to graduate school, sure, but there are also other paths to graduate school. So it's a little I find it takes the pressure off a little Did you find that through your experience, or Absolutely,


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  15:32

and I think that's why it enabled me who I'm a pretty detail oriented person, to just not focus on it at all, like, as long as he receives his diploma, he's good. And it doesn't really matter how he got there. Like you said, he's passed all his classes, and he hasn't been on probation. And I think you don't know how your kid's gonna respond. When they get there, I was really worried about him and the friends and the dorm situation, because the high school that he went to was a really small High School, and he was absolutely fine. Now, my next one, my daughter, she went to college, and she had some anxiety and the dorm was really a tough thing for her, she got put in triple and that was not working.


Dana Jonson  16:15

They should never group girls in threes. I really, like we all learn that early, let's just not do it.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  16:23

You know, as an accommodation, we got her move to a single room. And that was helpful, but then she wasn't socializing really at all. So eventually, we got an emotional support dog for her that lived with her in the dorm in her single, and that provided kind of the comfort to her. And also a talking point for people like who doesn't want to go up to a dog and you know, talk to the person that's, that owns the dog. So it helps her socially to, but it wouldn't have anticipated that when she was going. But I really want to I want to circle back to the How did I know he was attending classes? Yeah, most, one of the most important things I think, as a parent you can do. As I said earlier, your kid is an adult, they make the decisions at college, you can't find out about if they went to the infirmary, how you know what happened or anything like that, unless your child tells you or they give you specific permission. So FERPA is the law that covers you know, student information. And it's true in the elementary and secondary schools. And it's true in college. So you can have your child sign a waiver that gives you access to their academic information. And I found that really helpful because I didn't have to get on the phone with or FaceTime or whatever it was with Brogan and asked him about, are you going to class? Are you going to tutoring? I could contact this other person and say, I just want to ensure he's doing what he's supposed to be doing. And as long as that answer was, yes, I could focus on all the positive things that he was experiencing at school. So I really did find that that to be helpful. And I fully recommend and your child has to agree. So that's a conversation you want to have, before you get there. And you ask them to sign something, you know, they I think depending on how much support you give your kid throughout the years, they may or may not agree to that. So it's a conversation well worth having before you get into the situation.


Dana Jonson  18:20

But I think to that point, it's also it's an age where they are supposed to be growing away from us, right? They're supposed to be developing themselves. And we as parents have been so involved in everything, particularly if their disabilities, I know when my eldest went to a transition program, which is to transition to a college is for children who are college capable, but not ready. It was actually a huge relief. It was absolutely nerve wracking until she got there. And then I was like, oh, here's someone else.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  18:54

What do you think I want him to stay there for grad school.


Dana Jonson  18:57

Right, but keep going. But it is, I think, hard to imagine, as a parent of a child who's heading towards college, that you might be okay with not having full access to everything that that that might be an okay thing. But you're right, you have to get the consent. And I think that there's a way to do that without your children feeling like you're still on top of them, because they don't want that feeling either. And I think just like you said, you know, this will prevent that, you know, I have somebody else I can call and say, you know, did this happen, or did that happen that I'm not bugging you,


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  19:33

right? And I have to say I saw tremendous growth, I'd say between junior and senior year in high school, where even going into junior year, I was uncertain whether he would go away whether he you know, wanted to be in college, whether he was capable of the workload. And there was this really, you know, maturation that happened in those years and then continued in college. Which I think we all kind of know now that your brain continues to develop till you're, you know, 25 or so. And I really saw a lot of evidence of that just in his even with the tutoring, he did have set appointments every week, he would go for help. And by the time he hit his senior year, he actually had the woman call me and say, he really doesn't need to come anymore if he doesn't want to, because he's, he's good. He's doing fine. And I thought that was great that he was able to know he had access to it at that point, there's no way he would have done that as a freshman. And that's why we set up the you know, the weekly appointments. But for her to get to the point where she could say, he knows I'm here, he knows how to access me. He doesn't need this regularly. I really was just tremendously proud of them.


Dana Jonson  20:47

What do you say to I hear this all the time with parents, I don't want the stigma of special ed or I don't want the stigma of that diagnosis. I don't want it to follow them to college. And my response is usually what do you want assistance? Do you want them to have the support they need? Because it's To me, it's not a stigma, I get where that comes from, I get that position. And I know that there are people out there who still feel that way. But in general, I see all of these schools opening these tutoring centers or additional programs within their college program. And I don't see the stigma, do you see that at now that you have children in college going through the process? Do they feel stigmatized,


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  21:32

they don't. And I have to say I have always looked at things like anxiety or learning disabilities, or those things like I have high blood pressure, I take medication for high blood pressure and I ever everyone listening now knows that I have high blood pressure. So Brogan has dyslexia, he knows he has dyslexia, he, for whatever reason is confident enough that he will say, How do you spell this and he'll ask anybody in a room, he he acknowledges he doesn't spell Well, he uses the tools available to him. And I think the fact that he is open to the fact that he has his disability makes it not a stigma for him, you do have to let your professors know that you have it. And I think that there are students that are hesitant to do that. But it doesn't go any further than that. It's it's not even like public high school where everybody in the office might know like, you really need to tell each individual professor, the combinations that you want. So if you're a strong math student, and you're taking a calculus course, and you don't feel like you need any accommodations, you don't have to go there. You can kind of, you know, tailor it to where your needs are. But I think two people needs to realize that, you know, autism, learning disabilities, all these things, there's so much more information about them. Now, colleges are seeking out kids with these things, because they recognize that there's so much more to them, and that they're absolutely cognitively capable. And in some ways, their brains work a little differently in a really good way that make them more creative or more responsive to different things, that there are more and more programs tailored to some of these students. So it's never been my position to want to hide it. I understand it's still out there. And I would just say there's so much more awareness now that it's not something that needs to be hidden.


Dana Jonson  23:23

And I feel that if the school is going to think differently of your child because of this, should your child go there? Do you want to send your child somewhere where they don't think they're capable? Because they have dyslexia? For me? The answer's no. Because to me, that's, that's just a that's an institution that's ignorant to what's transpiring in the world, and the fact that my child is intelligent and capable of the work. I also hear that argument of, well, if you can't read, then, you know, how are you going to survive in the real world and tell me if I'm wrong, I said, Well, this is school. This is how they learn to be in the real world. So we don't need to blindside them here and make it more difficult. But I think one of the things that students are learning is that self advocacy piece is learning what they're good or bad at, you know, I mean, my mother never was good at math. At no point has she done anything when she owned her own business, she had a bookkeeper, she does not do math, never done that she's not diagnosed with any disabilities. She's not, you know, none of that she just never going to do a career in math. So if reading is a real challenge to you, then perhaps once you've learned everything you need to learn in education, you may not choose a career where you have to read or if you're, you know, crazy like I am, you might decide to go into a field where you do but then you know how you have to do it.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  24:44

Right? Well, and especially this generation is so technologically driven, that I have to say I think it was when Brogan was probably 17 or 18. He had a sign something and he looked at me like what do you mean? I said, Well, you put your signature down. It's like I I don't have a signature, what had he possibly signed before? You know, you don't people don't use checks anymore, you don't really sign you can digitally DocuSign things. And I was like, make one up right now. And there's so many, you know, ways to get around so many challenges with disabilities now. And I handwriting is a big one, because I'm sure you remember we hand wrote papers and things in high school and college and potentially law school. And if that happened now, there's no way you could read a lot of these kids handwriting because they grew up typing or text, you know, voice to text or whatever it is. So


Dana Jonson  25:41

look at it the other way, when we were growing up, the kids who couldn't write did have an alternative didn't go to college. Yeah, they just didn't go to college, because there was no alternative. So they couldn't get their thoughts across, you know, because of that handwriting components, or if it was a processing speed issues, so that they, you know, the thoughts were in their head, but they couldn't get them out, those kids just didn't go to college. Absolutely. And so we were just eliminating a whole population of students who were completely cognitively capable. Absolutely.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  26:11

And, you know, I think to the, the fear that we didn't have was, this isn't going to work. The the attitude that we took was, well, if this doesn't work, there's other options. And I think you it's not a pass or fail, college worked or didn't work, you know, there's a lot of options, even going in community colleges, for to start are a great idea. If your kids not independent enough to live far away, or we had a backup plan, if if he went and he was not happy, he could transfer and that was, you know, that was a free pass, we weren't going to judge or have an issue. It's pretty common. And it's pretty easy to transfer between colleges at this point. So the fit, luckily, was a really good fit. And he's been happy there for four years. And as I said, I hope he stays there for graduate school. And just to be clear, the same type of accommodations would go into graduate school as the same process, he would have to notify professors, but he would have access to, I just want to talk for a minute about the type of accommodations that you can get, because some of them are a little different than than high school. Yeah, one of the nice things in college, you can generally get a note taker, which is an anonymous student in the class who volunteers to take notes and share them with another student, they don't know who the student is, and the student doesn't know who they are. But you get kind of a clean copy of fully taken notes, because a lot of kids can't take notes and concentrate on what's being heard at the same time. So those are things they don't really like recording classes. So that's kind of a way around it. But you still have things like extra time, you can potentially have a different environment.


Dana Jonson  27:51

Well, and also, I just want to set a put a plug out there for how that works in the real world. I was on the board of an organization, I was the secretary and I'm one of those people, I can't listen and write at the same time. And I shouldn't say I can't do that. Obviously, you do that a lot in meetings. But it as a rule that really keeping those detailed notes is always a challenge for me. And they very happily did the same place like it was, you know, somebody else who always took notes would just I'd get an email, and then I would take that combined with mine for what I had just to make sure and to make sure that I covered it. So if that was a real life, easy, easy thing, and no one had a problem with it at all, I was still able to carry out my duties as a secretary, I had this accommodation. It didn't, you know, it was very reasonable. It was not unreasonable things. So I also think that we sometimes say, Well, how is this gonna play out in real life? exactly the way it does in school sometimes?


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  28:44



Dana Jonson  28:44

Absolutely. You know, so what are some of the other accommodations? I liked the notetaking? One, I've heard that one before. And I have heard that works? Well. What about Do any of your students have extra time for you count AMS?


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  28:59

Yeah, you can potentially get extra time. Sometimes you can take it in the Learning Center, an exam, the professors will work with the Learning Center and get the tests to the Learning Center. So the student is taking it their professors are people. So I am a proponent of really having an open conversation with a professor. And sometimes you might need the Learning Center to coordinate that or to facilitate that, because you might be a little intimidated. This is your professor but I have found both of my college kids have really been able to approach their professor or email a professor and have a conversation about things that would help them and the professors in all the cases have been more than willing. They recognize you're not cheating if you're, you know, taking something in a different environment that it's required for you to do your best. So, you know, I really encourage you to have those conversations. Yeah,


Dana Jonson  29:51

I think that's a good point here is the stigma that we talked about often is a stigma for the parents. It's not for the world. That's going on. Now, I mean, that was the case when I was growing up, right? There were things that were going on for me that my parents thought were like, Ooh, that's, that's taboo that really, you know, they weren't by the time my generation came around. So, you know, it's the same thing. Now we talk about that. But I find that at least with my children, the more we've talked about it, the more open we are about it, the less they see it as a stigma or as a concern or as a barrier. And I think that's really important. And it goes back to knowing yourself as a learner, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. And the first time you're having that conversation shouldn't be when you're applying to college, you should be having that conversation all along with your child about where they may struggle, and then it doesn't make them weak, that it just makes them vulnerable to learning differently. But they're perfectly capable of learning if they're taught in the right way. But they're not going to be taught in the right way if they don't know how they need to learn. Exactly. So because at that point, let's go back to high school where and when do we start thinking about that? And, and I know, there are different philosophies. As an attorney, I don't always recommend that parents bring their children to the IEP meetings that I attend, because they're usually contentious. And we're focusing on what a child can't do. And I don't want the child there for that, because I'm the attorney. So we're obviously in a fight. But if I'm not there, or we're at a place where the adults are getting along, then I do support very strongly a child going to their IEP meetings and discussing their disabilities and understanding where they are. And in fact, when they finished high school, if they're going to college, they should have a summary, they should have a tangible piece of paper that says, These are my strengths and my weaknesses, this is what I need and what I don't need. And this is what I need to be successful in my next location, wherever that is. So what stage do parents ask schools to start considering transition? Because I know that depending on the state, you're in, somewhere between 14 and 16, is when your school's obligated to discuss transition, right? I think a lot of transition skills are focused on vocational components. And and it's much more we do focus more on college now than we did before. But I think for a long time, there was this misconception that transition services meant vocational pieces, but it's actually meant to for whatever you're doing next. And I think that for children who are going to college, there was a misconception that maybe they didn't need transition skills, but they do and for some kids that needs to start sooner than 16. So when and how can parents figure out when to do that? Or how to approach that topic?


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  32:46

Well, I think it's becoming more clear in schools that the responsibility lies in seeking opportunities for both post secondary learning and vocational skills, depending on the student and exploring both of those. And if your child is, you know, 1415, whatever the ages in your state, you should be seeing those goals and objectives in your IEP on how they're going to start looking for colleges, how are they going to start determining what their where their interests lie, there are a couple other, you know, kind of solid rules, like generally colleges want testing, that's within three years. So you're generally getting tested every three years if you're on an IEP, but that three years may not coincide with the college three years, and that in fact, that's what happened with us. Brogan had his testing and his freshman year of high school. So then when we were going to college, his testing was more than when we were applying to college, his testing was three years old. But when he would be accepted, it was more than that. And that just took a conversation with the college to say, do we really need to put him through all of this testing again? Or is this sufficient information and they said, it's sufficient. So even when you see a rule, like question it, or see if there's, you know, any flexibility in that kind of thing. But your your high school team should be driving the conversation at the PPT meetings when your child is of that age. But as a student and a parent, you want to have a lot of ownership of that. And, you know, start thinking about where your child's strengths and vulnerabilities are and what what they're interested in what they potentially could do with what their skill set is.


Dana Jonson  34:30

I think what's also important to note is that some states require that you have both vocational and post secondary education goals and objectives. So you also want to make sure that if you have one objective, or one goal in your child's IEP for transition and one is will seek interests in careers in the future, and the other is we'll look into colleges. Those aren't objective. That's not that's not okay. If you're questioning goals and dreams As you can go back to last week's episode where you know, Stacy and I pulled apart some transition goals and objectives and, and I see that a lot, the student will meet with their counselor three times and identify five schools in their range and what classes they need to take. Now that sounds to me like something that every high schooler does, at some point, they meet with their guidance counselor, they determine what if any, post secondary education would be appropriate for them, and then they start taking classes towards that goal. So putting that in a child's IEP junior year sounds a little late and not enough?


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  35:40



Dana Jonson  35:41

Where should we start? What what kind of skills are we looking for? If a student is going to college? What kind of transition skills do we want to work on?


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  35:49

I think that's it's a really good question. And I don't have a definitive answer. But it to me, it comes. We're going through this right now with my youngest two, as I mentioned, as a junior, and trying to figure out she does want to go to college, she has no idea where or for what she kind of knows, she doesn't want to go too far. And the rest of it is, you know, talking through there's, there's so much on the internet now about how to how to choose a college, how to pick a college, what questions you should ask yourself. And I would encourage people to look at those and do some self reflection on what you need. Because it's a balance to me, because as I said earlier, my son was not ready to go to college when he was a freshman or sophomore, but we had to start thinking about it. And part of the thought was, he's not going to be ready. So how do we get him there? And part of him was some more independence, some social anxiety, and how do we address that, because again, you're you're putting a kid where every aspect of their life is different, not just the way that they're about to learn, they are going to have vast amounts of free time that they need to allocate toward the different things they need to get done. And they've never really had to do that before. So these are skills that I think every kid needs, in being able to develop those skills of time management and the kind of self motivation, if they're not motivated to do the work, the work is not going to get done, and they're not going to be successful.


Dana Jonson  37:19

Yeah, I ran into that with my oldest where, as I said, when I met her at 13, I was told she was going to be vocational. And that's just the way that we are planning things. So I just asked her and she said she wanted to go to college, and I really didn't know what whether she'd be capable or not. But I did know that if she wanted to go to college, we couldn't decide junior senior year that we had to start her on top of college geared classes, right? I mean, now there's facts when I was in high school, everyone, if you want to go to college, you went to college, or you didn't, but there weren't, at least I don't remember there being two distinctly different tracks of classes. Right. So, you know, there are pieces like that. I also I just spoke with a family not that long ago, where they felt that their child got into middle school, and the goals and objectives suddenly got functional, and not like academic. And I suggested in that situation that we do get a transition evaluation that early. And I think it's important for parents to know that you can assess transition skills at any age. Yes, and there are some skills that need to be addressed at a very young age. And my favorite example is a child learning to use a public restroom if they're a very impaired child, and most of the staff are women, right? The environment and a female bathroom is vastly different than that in a male bathroom. So these boys are being taught how to use a public restroom, five women, and you have, you have to think about how that impacts them and how it will down the road. And that's just a small example of how, you know everything ties into everything down the road. But it's never too young to assess those transitions skills. So even if you think your child is college bound, if you're unsure of what they need to know or learn, then that needs to be addressed. And as you said, maybe it's leisure skills. There's some kids who don't have hobbies who do not know what to do with themselves when given six blank hours. And that can be really stressful and it can create really bad ideas. Write them into trouble.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  39:26

Absolutely. If you're if your child doesn't know how to be social and make friends and now they're in a room by themselves. And the only way they're going to go out and make friends is to put themselves out there. Those are hard skills as an adult to to use if you have any kind of social hesitation or anxiety for those situations, you know, talking through those things with your child and the school team and how to address them. It's really important.


Dana Jonson  39:53

And I think that's a key piece as well. Having that group of people you can find how do you find your people


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  40:00

Hmm, absolutely, yeah. And there's so many options, clubs and sports and, you know, academics, any area of interest is generally, there's something available for somebody,


Dana Jonson  40:11

students have to understand that it isn't interest, right. And that that's okay. Because I also find that sometimes kids in high school who have very past schedules, because they have a lot of learning disabilities, or what have you, I have one child who doesn't have a lot of free time in the evening, because it takes her longer to do her work, that she doesn't have the same level of time to be social. So she may not develop the same level of the hobbies or interests and get to college and not be accustomed to joining groups. And because we've removed those in order to get the surfaces that she needs. So we haven't, you know, it's like, No, you won't do that after school thing, because, you know, she wants to focus on a class, it's really difficult. But she's not learning that skill. She's not learning the skill of seeking out a group of like minded people, and then inserting yourself into that group. And I think we need to address that as well. And I go back to when I worked with a nonverbal population and teaching them leisure skills, you know, teaching the child, you know, do you enjoy doing the puzzle, then let's teach you how to sit here on task and do the puzzle for a period of time, so that you have that time to you know, that downtime, and that leisure skill that I think we take so for granted, and we're always still pushing our children to do better and better, sometimes we forget that they need to be good at that, too. They do. And it's funny, you say that, at the same time.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  41:31

I mean, I think every podcast, you say this, or I say this, and you know your child better than anybody. And obviously, your child knows themselves better than anybody. And my middle child who was at college was very much into theatre. So we encouraged her and she loves to write. So it was like, during the journalism during the school paper, get involved with the musical. And she finally had to say, it's enough of an adjustment to be here. I can't put that additional pressure on myself right now. And it was a really good moment for her to advocate to us for herself and kind of showed us that we needed to back off and pushing her there, that she was happy. She was comfortable. She was successful in school. And she was doing that at her own pace, which was great for her.


Dana Jonson  42:19

Right. And I think that is the hardest piece. We are so used to micromanaging our children and their education. Because we had to write there wasn't there was nobody else doing it. And and it is, you know, they talked about that college cliff. I think parents hit it too. I know we, we fall right out like Wait, what am I going to do now? What am I going to do with all my free time? I don't have anyone to micromanage. Unless you live in my house. There's always somebody else. There's, there's no problem there.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  42:46

Well, I also found that with each child that left for college, I got a new dog. Not that they're a one to one replacement. But I think emotionally I needed to replace that. You know that somebody needs me.


Dana Jonson  43:00

I just have What do I do now? I love it. I can do dogs. So what I'm hearing I'm hearing a lot of things I'm hearing that preparation and looking into the types of programs that schools have is really key. I think we need to get out of our mind that here's the list of schools that are good. And the rest are not right. College doesn't have to be done in four years. It doesn't have to be done. The second you finish from high school. It doesn't have to be done at the school, you were told you had to go to college. It's just there's so much availability now. And for better or worse. Now with COVID there's even more opportunity. Absolutely. Because for students who don't necessarily want to be in that environment, or can be in that environment, that social environment for a variety of reasons, are able now to fully access a college education. Yes. And I think that is that's a huge piece that has come to the forefront during COVID, which I think is a good thing. But we want to be careful to not fully isolate ourselves either. You know, I have a child who who loved it COVID hit and she was like I'm in I don't have to leave the house. I don't have to talk to people. My schedule is on the computer. This is brilliant, but she craves social interaction and she doesn't know how to do it, which is why that was so good for her. So we have to remember that just because we found one outlet for her that's really good doesn't mean we let everything else go. Absolutely.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  44:22

I mean, I had one kid who my daughter was fairly happy with the remote learning she was home for a while. They did go back in person but she had the option to learn remotely and she does well with that mode. My son missed his ultimate frisbee team he missed the exercise he you know he was craving being on campus with his friends and his classmates and he also knows as a learner he needs that in person connection and experience. So luckily he would did go back mostly in person and they were they the colleges have done I think a really good job of controlling COVID and kind of locking down campus and running testing and from the beginning, a lot of them have. So they were both able to be successful, despite the circumstances.


Dana Jonson  45:11

You know, I think that there are a lot of components to this. But what I'm hearing is that colleges really do have a lot of what kids need, and we shouldn't be afraid to look for it. It's really about preparation, as with anything else, understanding what your child requires, and understanding what the school has to offer. Because if the school doesn't have to offer what your child needs, then it's not the right school. Absolutely. And I thought, even if they can get in,


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  45:40

I would not have thought that we would end up with him at a school that does not have an official pay to learn additional Learning Support Program, I've been very happy with the program that they've put together for him. And it was not something that I would have expected until we got in there and started talking to them about how they could support him.


Dana Jonson  46:01

Yeah, yeah. So I mean, that level of investigation and looking into it. And I also think, looking at a young age, you know, starting Middle School, that's what I say, you know, in middle school, you're not going to know what your children are going to do, or what they're going to be capable of. But it is when everybody else starts preparing, even if they don't realize that's when they're preparing it is when they are preparing, that's when they are starting to think about what classes their kids will take, that's when they start signing them up for sa t classes, that's when they start, you know, all of those pieces, a lot of kids are starting around Middle School. So you know, if you have a child who's going to be overwhelmed by taking the SH T's, then maybe they don't, there are so many schools now that they don't send them in, right, we're not, we're not even going to look at them. So don't bother, because they they don't measure your child's abilities. That way, if the school is going to measure your child's ability based primarily or solely on sh T's, and your child's can't do that, or won't, won't be able to show their full potential that way, then that's not the school for you. That's, that's the hardest piece to get through is which one is right for you.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  47:11

And in both my college students went to test optional colleges, and did not submit any a CT or a CT scores, because they did not feel they were an accurate reflection of their abilities. And they're both highly successful colleges.


Dana Jonson  47:27

So and that's funny because I have one in an alternative school that doesn't, you know, require any of that, and she wants to take it, because she wants to show that she's doing the same stuff other people are doing, but I don't think she's gonna look at colleges that will take it. So I'm wondering like, what are we doing with these sh t? shirts? Were they gonna go? But you know, if she wants it for her own self assessment, then we'll do it.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  47:51

Exactly my youngest just took them and who knows when it's necessary or not. But she wanted part of the experience. So she had the experience.


Dana Jonson  47:59

Yeah. So there you go. Take the shgs It's always a good time. Well, thank you, I really can't thank you enough. I think this is a lot of really good information. For other parents, I want people to hear this and realize that, you know, it's easy for us to focus on the barriers that our children have, and how challenging education is for them. And it is challenging for them. But they got through high school, they will get through the next level, if that's what they want. And if we can find the right fit. If it's like work sometimes, how many people have had a job that hated and quit?


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  48:30

Yes. And the reality is, if it takes you more than four years to get through college, in the end, it's not that big a deal. It's the gala, it's really not, it's more important that you're able to complete it, then you do it in. I know my son felt pressure to complete college in four years. And I don't know where it came from, because


Dana Jonson  48:51

he wanted to write no rush for him to get out. He wanted to right, that was his goal. That was his goal.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  49:00

It related to his disability, and that he wanted to prove to himself that he could do it.


Dana Jonson  49:05

Yeah. Meanwhile, my daughter could care less. She could be there for like the next seven years, and she'll be fine. She's living her best life. And that's all good. We'll just stay here and this will be my life for now. But three years ago, would never have thought she'd be on a college campus. So to your point of maturing. And I think you know, that's actually a really good point, because I think we see many children developing a little later than we realize that children with a lot of learning disabilities, often they mature even later. So it's not unusual for us to have that concern earlier on or that you know, it's easy to say my kid does not seem mature enough to be doing what these other juniors are doing yet. That's okay. That doesn't mean they won't be junior year is not the end of developmental process.


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  49:51

Right. Right.


Dana Jonson  49:53

We keep selling. Wonderful. Well, thank you any parting tips any questions parents should keep in their mind To while they're going through high school with their kids that you can think of,


Laura Heneghan, Special Education Attorney  50:04

I think I realized that it's such an individualized process that even having my older two were back to back years. And it was a completely different process, because they're completely different kids. And what we were looking for and what they were looking for was unique to them. And that was a really important lesson that I learned, and is what's driving. Now my third look at college is what, what's important to you? Where do you feel like you'll fit and will be successful? And that, again, may change over the course of time? And that's okay.


Dana Jonson  50:38

Yeah, I feel like by the time I get this right, I'm going to be out of kids. That Well, thank you so much for I really appreciate you sharing your experience and all of this knowledge with us, because I think the more parents hear how typical This is, yes, it's a typical experience in many, many ways. Your experience is not different. You said do a little more detailed investigation. But I think, you know, this is this is doable. It's not as scary as it sounds. And I think our kids are way more capable. And schools are way more accepting than I think we recognize and and they understand the the importance of focusing on strengths at the same time as mitigating those deficits. Absolutely. If you need to find Laura, you can find her in my office on our websites, special ed dot law. And thank you for joining me I will have you back again. Thank you for not thank you so much for joining me today. Please don't forget to subscribe to this podcast so you don't miss any new episodes. And if there's anything you want to hear a comment on, go to our Facebook page and drop me a note there. I'll see you next time here on need to know with Dana Jonson have a fabulous day.