By Sue Rawley
Maybe your child is still a baby, but it’s really never to early to start thinking about the future. I don’t mean that you need to figure out their complete life plan now, but you do have to think about encouraging independence and mobility so your little baby bird can successfully leave the nest one day.
Our son, Aaron, who is visually impaired, is nearing the end of his high school years. What this means for our family is… COLLEGE TOURS!
Back in my day, my universe was small. I grew up in a small town in the middle of Vermont. I applied to exactly one college. It never dawned on me that I needed a Plan B. Lucky for me, Plan A worked, and I was very happy with my college experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!
My boys’ universe is much bigger, thanks to the internet! I never knew how many schools were out there. There are a lot of college databases that can help filter down the choices to a much more manageable list. You can filter by state, number of students, majors offered and much more.
Once we got our basic list down a bit (we called this our “long list”), we looked at the school’s stats. How many graduated, how difficult it was to get into, etc. That weeded out some more. Still not our “short list” yet!
We started to weed out based on location. How far is it from civilization – was it in the boondocks, or was it in the city? We assumed that schools in the city would be more accessible, but deciede to visit one school that was taken off the list because it seemed too remote. Upon looking at the school, we decided that we shouldn’t exclude based on that criteria. We needed to look at mobility based on other criteria, and not just because it seemed too far away from public transportation. This particular school had transportation available. It might not have been really convenient, but it was doable. And the fact that Aaron loved the curriculum at that school would make the inconvenience of getting into Boston worth the effort. The school offered transportation to the bus station in the next town, where he could get the bus to the commuter rail, and then into Boston, then anywhere the Mass Transit system would take him (including destinations outside of Massachusetts). Convenient? No. Workable? Yes, absolutely!
Back to a longer list again!
We’ve also been focusing on Aaron’s needs. Aaron expressed an interest in either being close to family or close to opportunities that might serve him well in his fields of interest – politics, history and anthropology. All the areas in and around DC stayed on the list. He has family in North Carolina, Pensylvania, and Florida… so they’re on the list. All others were eliminated.
Now we were down to a list of about 6 New England schools, 1 in Florida, 2 in the Carolinas, 6 in the DC/Virgina area and 1 in Pennsylvania. That’s still quite a few, but a lot more manageable. The “short list!”
We have toured all the local ones on his list, as well as the one in Florida. I’d like to share some tips from our experiences so far:
- We have worked on independence skills and self-advocacy skills for years now. Time for him to show us his stuff! Trail behind him while he’s touring the campus.
- Schedule an appointment with the Disabilities Services office for before or after the tour. It would be best if the student can do this, but realistically, Aaron didn’t have the time during the schools’ office hours. The visit to the DS office can be quite revealing. Trust your instincts! Some schools “get it” more than others.
- Visiting one school, I realized a mistake I had made… it wasn’t my place to talk to the Director of Disabilities Services – it was Aaron’s. Of course I will speak up if I have a question or two, but the focus of the conversation should be between the school and Aaron. I’m the tag-along. Went to another school, and this time I sat back a bit from the two of them. Aaron asked all his questions, and I was just there to make sure everything was covered.
- Lastly, I’d suggest you evaluate where your child is TODAY. Does your child have the self-advocacy skills to address his or her professors? If the Professor gives out a test and it says “use the space provided to write a paragraph”, will your child speak up and say “that’s not enough room. I really need to use a computer”? Aaron is a Yes-man. He’ll work with anything he’s given and not necessarily speak up. This is definitely something we need to work on.
I’m very excited about this time in Aaron’s life. We’ve been teaching him to fly and the time is near. My baby will soon be spreading his wings and I hope he soars with the Eagles!