Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Moving on up… “Transition from Senior School to College/University” by  Dyslexia Toby © 2014

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Have you experienced a transition from your normal routine?... changing job or moving home perhaps?  This change can affect your structure and stability and can also be very stressful for many.  Multiply this and that is how a child with additional/specific learning needs feels every time he or she has to face even the smallest change.
The stress and anxiety doesn’t just stop with the student either … the parents will worry for the child/young adult and themselves about the early days in the new environment, knowing full well this has already been a problem with less challenging changes like moving desks, teachers and classes in the past and now we are talking a whole new environment in an adult world, where most of the direction has to come from the student.
All change is challenging and comes at a price, so transition needs to be gentle.  Why more schools don’t allow students to go to the next level for tasters (visit the college for a couple of days to allow students sample courses before deciding which to enrol for) is beyond me… this is achieved by few and yet a wide range of tasters and courses are offered by so many third level colleges… certainly in the UK and something that would be worth looking into at any college you’re considering.
Flexibility is king in accommodating the transition process when a child/young adult presents with SPLD.  There are guidelines for schools and colleges to follow, but many parents will be unaware of this at the point it’s required.  It’s vital to maintain communication with tutors and/or special needs department, both prior to and after transition to make sure everyone is aware of the individual’s needs.  Senior schools should communicate with both parent and college/universities to compile the information necessary to be able to accommodate the child’s needs (IEP).  Parents need to be made aware of points reductions where statements can back up a specific learning need, such as in Ireland there is the DARE scheme…this allows for a reduction in entry points required and many colleges subscribe to this.
Guidelines in the UK:
“To comply with the terms of the Equality Act, students with dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties should not be penalised for poor spelling, grammar or sentence structure.
Students registered for dyslexia/spld support are given blue cards to attach to their work to alert the marker to their dyslexia/spld so that appropriate concessions can be made.
For further information about marking the work of dyslexic/spld students, please see:
For modules where academic standards would be compromised by applying dyslexia/spld marking concessions, exemption may be requested. This is normally likely to apply only to modules specifically testing use of language – for example foreign language modules.”  Quote from Oxford Brookes University.

Guidelines in Ireland:
DARE is a College and University Admissions Scheme (Disability Access Route to Education) that offers places on reduced points to school leavers with disabilities, apply early.

Who is DARE for?
Dare is for school leavers (Under 23yrs as at 1 January 2013) who have a disability and who may not be able to meet the points for their preferred course, due to the impact of their disability.
Apply Early: apply to the CAO at www.cao.ie

Discuss the history of your child/young adult with the college/university to make sure you are all singing off the same hymn sheet… reasonable accommodation should be afforded in certain instances (students with dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia), such as :

 Voice Recorder.
 Writer present - to be able to sit their exam away from the main exam room (less distraction).
 Exemption from spelling and grammatical components in language subjects (waiver).

The key to reduced stress lies in preparation… I will always remember the old saying “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. Be pro-active and less problems will occur… transition is, as it says, a period of smoothness from one thing to another.  This should happen very early on in the final year/sixth class and below I have made some suggestions that can be used by both parent/child and school.

Transition without the Stress – Hints to help from Second Level School to college/university:

Get the College to demonstrate an understanding of your child’s condition.

Talk with the students on a one to one basis about the different structure and the increased formality they might face at third level.

Introduce a mentor from the present first year to ease in the new student… this will grow the network for the incoming students.  Avoid older students as they could draw the incoming students out of their comfort zone.

Try to get the College to offer lockers that are easy accessible and away from the hustle as young adults with learning needs can become nervous in crowds and all fingers and thumbs.

Most will realise that they will have a variety of teachers, possibly one or more per subject… it’s important that their year tutor informs the others of your child’s needs.

Parents/carers should teach their children/students how to write out and also read prepared timetables and it helps to colour code and replicate with text books…e.g. 1st lecture on Monday is yellow so put a yellow sticker on the relevant book and the timetable…they will have far more free self-directed study periods at third level and need guidance to discipline themselves with this strange routine.

Students need to know about acronyms… for example, Exam bodies like Edexcel and RSA …these will be used far more in third level.
Make sure you avail of every opportunity to visit the new place of education… it’s worth driving past there occasionally, especially at busy times.  Let them know about shortened lesson times and moving to different classrooms for each lesson (orientation is so important).  Also, they need to know meals will be at different times, depending on their timetable… is there a cafĂ© or will they take food?  Maybe show them the college website and they can check out the gallery of photos. Take them along to as many open days as you can and talk to course tutors, etc.

Make sure your child decides on whether they want their college/friends to know they have learning needs… not all children are comfortable with this and the college cannot tell others as you are protected under data protection. I have found from experience that there is great support from those that know, at this higher level of education.

You should be in possession of a valid statement in order to show the new college/resource department for the provision of resource hours, laptops, etc.  Most have really great facilities in their learning resource rooms and can help with essay/assignments, etc.

Make sure they are aware of toileting, etc… I recently spoke to my son’s teacher about his transition from primary school last year and asked if they understood about his dyspraxia and the answer was ‘yes’.  However, in the next sentence they mentioned that he was spotted going to the toilet less than 20 mins after the start of the first class of the day and surely he knew he wanted to go (inferring he should have gone before lessons started)… so did they fully understand dyspraxia?... no is the answer.  Also, they might well have quiet rooms if your child gets stressed or make arrangements for time out if your child feels threatened by an activity.

Parents need to be prepared for colleges to call them if meltdowns happen… it might be wise for you to take time off work during the first week at least so you can collect them from their new environment, have a coffee and let them talk about their early experiences. It’s also advisable in case you are called by the college.

 Keep an eye out for bullying (change of mood, disturbed sleep, confused and reluctance to get going, wanting to change courses after a few weeks  and maybe even a  return to bed wetting…  these can all be  indicators).  Find out who they spend breaks with… listen out for names and check to see that they are in the same year, as quite often older boys will use them to do things they shouldn’t be doing, like leaving the college to go to the shop or start trouble on their behalf.  Watch out for people trying to influence smoking/drinking or drug taking.
Try to be all positive and avoid pressure in relation to performance until they are settled.

Get to meet their new friends and encourage them to visit... this will help them gel and stay in the loop, thus preventing isolation.
Make sure you attend parent evenings and get a direct line to your child’s course tutor and make sure they have all the relevant information in course files. Get dates from them for exams and project deadlines and make sure you chase them about accommodation for exams ahead of time to avoid upsets.
I will say, third level are far more pro-active than first or second level in this regard, as they are funded on outcomes in most cases and not student numbers.
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All our articles are for information only and guidance… professional advice should always be sought. Toby Lee, Dyslexia © 2013