College, First Week

Posted: January 22nd, 2010 under communication, education, life on the spectrum, parenting, socialization.
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One of the things many parents wonder about–and worry about–is whether their kid with disabilities will be able to go to college.   It’s pretty easy, sometimes, to come up with a firm “No, sorry, this child will simply never be able to attend college” and at that point concern can shift to other ways to prepare the child for adult life.  And sometimes it’s pretty easy to see that a given child will be able to–colleges now accommodate students in wheelchairs, for instance, much better than they did fifty years ago, when simply being unable to walk unaided barred wheel-chair bound students who could not reach classrooms or labs or rooms in the dorms.

It’s the borderline ones–the “maybe” cases–that cause parents the most angst.  I know, because I have one of those.    And yet…in time, with enough hard work from everyone involved…sometimes “maybe” turns to “yes.”   Yesterday we had a taste of “yes.”Tuesday was actually the first day of classes and went as reported in my comment on the previous post.  Our son survived the day with no meltdowns, no freeze-ups, and though he came home looking worried, he was also happy, he said, to be starting.    He’s 26, looks younger, and is the product of 3 years of private preschool, 12 years of homeschooling, 4 years of spec-ed public high school, 1 year in a group home (did not work out at all for him)  and several years of part-time work (too few hours, no chance of advancement.)    He tests borderline for IQ, has speech & language problems, and is autistic; he’s on disability.   (He’s also friendly, hardworking, gentle, thoughtful…)

Wednesday was spent getting him hooked into the college’s online learning center and class connections–they require a broadband connection (which he doesn’t have at his house, but we do),  and his first sight of real college homework (which, albeit these are remedial classes, is a lot heftier than anything he had in spec ed in high school.)   We alternately hauled him through the first chapters in all three textbooks, and poured on the parental support/encouragement/advice until it was coming out his pores and he fled for his place and bed.   Both his transition to college text and I emphasized the need to ask for help when having problems (I myself flunked out by not asking for help, trying to get through entirely on my own–incompetently, as it turned out.  I now have two college degrees, but that first awful year could’ve been better if I hadn’t been convinced no help existed.)

Thursday was the bigger test–real classes, not day of introduction.   He and my husband got off on time, caught the right buses, and arrived at campus to find that the first class, the transition to college one, had been canceled.  Those of you with autistic offspring know what chances in schedule can do.  But–no meltdown.  His father pointed out that this gave him time to work on the other classes, and to ask the math prof some procedural questions the two them hadn’t solved with the online process.   And coached him in how to ask those questions, and then sent him to the math prof’s office (and yes, hovered outside the door.)

Our son was able to ask the questions coherently enough, and get answers he understood.   (He still has difficulty with speech production.)    In the math class itself (second class of the day)  he took relevant notes and understood the lecture.  In the third class (remedial reading, where he’s more advanced in some aspects of reading than other students, but not in others) he was able to answer questions and discuss something from the text.

Best of all,  when I talked to him in the evening, he was clearly much more confident than he had been Tuesday evening.    When I asked what the best and worst parts of the day had been, he said the best was taking notes in math class and the worst was the first class being canceled.  I asked if going to talk to the math prof had been scary or not (my husband and I had gone to supper while our son went ice-skating right after classes, so I knew about that) and he said it was scary, but it would have been scarier not to ask.   (And I will have major glow about that for a week at least!   YES!!)

He has also gained a lot of confidence from the pre-college rides on the buses in and out of the city, and is looking forward to riding them alone–not at all his attitude when we started, when he was clearly afraid that he might take the wrong one and would be totally lost somewhere in the city with no way home.    (We live 50 miles out, and the nearest connection to the city transit system is a little over 20 miles away.

He’s on my husband’s computer now, doing his homework.  Arrived over here at 9 am sharp, with all his books and notes, ready to start.

I expect there will be bumps and problems and possibly even “failure” ahead,  and he may or may not make it to a degree, but for a kid we were told would almost certainly need to be institutionalized, who didn’t have much chance of achieving any independence…I’m doing the happy dance now, and hope it gives hope to other parents.


  • Comment by Jenny — January 22, 2010 @ 4:02 pm


    Whoo-hoo! How exciting!

  • Comment by Jenny — January 22, 2010 @ 4:32 pm


    Our child is also a maybe. As in, maybe he can be in a normal classroom, maybe he’ll be able to do secondary education. His delays aren’t clustered so the “experts” tell us very different things. Especially because he’s his own thing and doesn’t have a diagnoses I feel like every time we get a handle on where he’s at and where he’s going we get turned around again:)
    I know it seems silly to think about collage when my child is trying to make it through kindergarten but that’s the kind of thing that keeps running through my mind, along with a lot of other questions:)

  • Comment by Elizabeth — January 22, 2010 @ 6:46 pm


    It’s not silly…at least, I didn’t think so. And when they’re the age of yours, you really can’t tell…the experts told us lots of things, only a fraction of which turned out to be true. (“It won’t go away” was true. “If he doesn’t do X by time Y, he never will” wasn’t true.) The one who seemed to have the most clues said one day “I guess we won’t know where his limits are until he stops advancing.” Yep. We still don’t know.

    I kept one eye firmly on the ultimate hopes (decent person, living independently) and the other on the day at hand…it’s probably no wonder my bifocals aren’t enough…(joke!)

    Best wishes to you and yours.

  • Comment by beth — January 22, 2010 @ 11:29 pm


    My nephew is in first grade, and we do wonder about college. Not in a active way, but in back burner way. In between the day at hand concerns and successes are the larger picture ideas.

  • Comment by Elizabeth — January 22, 2010 @ 11:39 pm


    Yup. Especially with kids who aren’t average, their route to the larger picture idea may not be average either. And so there’s that constant tension (in the parent or other caregiver) between looking ahead and looking closely. How is what he can do now related to what we hope for him later? I found it more productive to look for ways to connect what he could do, than to look at what he couldn’t do….though that wasn’t easy, esp. early on.

  • Comment by Reinata — January 25, 2010 @ 2:18 am


    Elizabeth, I am just so in awe and encouraged by how you and your husband handle/work with/encourage/are committed to your son and helping him achieve the most that he can. The way you help him and coach him to deal with situations and grow. I read this post (and have caught up with all the others) with goose bumps and a lump in my throat.
    I’m sure it’s not always easy, and that you have your share of setbacks and struggles, but this just embodies for me a big part of what being a parent should be about and, if I had children, how I would have wanted to be there for them.
    Thanks for sharing your journey – it has really touched me.

  • Comment by OtterB — January 25, 2010 @ 9:47 am


    Congrats to him and to you. My rule of thumb with my daughter, now almost 16, has been “If we give her the opportunity and support, she may or may not be able to do it. If we don’t give her the opportunity and support, she’s certainly not going to be able to do it.”

    On the predictions of experts … I was in Texas this past weekend visiting my brother, who has cognitive disabilities plus seizures and lives in a group home. I took him to lunch with some aunts & uncles. One of the aunts mentioned that my parents were told that my brother wouldn’t live to be 18. We’re now in our 50s. 😉

  • Comment by Elizabeth — January 25, 2010 @ 9:59 am


    I have to say that we’ve been lucky, both in our background and in our circumstances. Some parents, who have every bit as much intention and determination, don’t have the background we have, which made reading and evaluating the literature much easier (“That’s a pile of junk–ignore it. Ah–there’s a jewel of an idea–try it.”) Others don’t have the social/economic situation we had–a single parent with an autistic kid (and the diagnosis sometimes ends marriages) doesn’t have the hours to spend with the child. If there are other children, or another family member who has a medical condition–and I’ve read about these and even worse situations–it’s impossible to do what we did. Even though my husband sometimes had a killer work schedule, and I was writing, I was able to be home with the kid–and that made a huge difference. So though I thank you for your good opinion–and will treasure it–I’m very well aware that other parents are in a different place, and I don’t want to spread guilt.

  • Comment by Elizabeth — January 25, 2010 @ 10:03 am


    You’re so right. You offer the bait/opportunity and see if they can use it–because without that chance, they won’t. It’s the same for the economically disabled kids I worked with in San Antonio decades ago–if they aren’t given the chance at the good classes, the summer in a science lab, you can’t know if they’re able or not. Nor can they–they can’t imagine themselves as potential scientists if they’re surrounded by an atmosphere of “fail.”

    Predictions…both the experts and I have been wrong about our son…but in different directions, needless to say.

  • Comment by Reinata — January 26, 2010 @ 12:12 am


    That is so true – haven’t thought of it that way, though didn’t mean to put any parent down that aren’t able to provide that either.
    Best wishes for the rest of your son’s college year!

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