Colleges for Kids with LD and Special Needs

Parent Q&A

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  • Colleges for LD Kids

    (3 replies)

    As we start the college application process, I wanted to see if anyone has recs for colleges where LD kids can thrive, flourish and get prepped vocationally for the working world. Our daughter has auditory processing, short term memory issues and various other speech and language differences. The search process is daunting as it is. So any and all ideas welcomed. Thanks. 

    There recently was a parent support group called BOLD at BHS for parents with LD kids.  It met once a month & parents shared information. Perhaps you can contact the coordinators for information? My daughter is dyslexic & high GPA & is at USC & they’ve been great.

    A young man I know with dyslexia attended Landmark College in Vermont several years ago and spoke very highly of his experience there. 

    Good luck!

    Hi there.  What college would be best for a young person with LD really depends on the person and what level of supports they'll need to succeed.  There are colleges that are specifically designed for students with dyslexia and related issues, and mainstream institutions that offer great support.  Of those there are small colleges and large universities.  What you'll want to know is how will the school support the student.  Is there a specific program, accommodations, tutoring? "Best colleges for learning disabilities" is just a google search away and will give you lists of what you are looking for.   There are some small, private colleges that are well known for LD programs: Beacon and Landmark, also Curry, and Mitchell.  U of AZ is a big place, but also well known for it's learning support center.  There are many others.  Good luck!

  • The good news is that our bright high school senior has gotten accepted by several of her top choice colleges; UC’s and CSU’s.   The problem is that while she is mature and academically ready for college, she is suffering from PTSD, depression and severe anxiety stemming from childhood trauma with her birth family and then later in foster care.  She is also exhibiting risky behaviors currently, including drinking to the point of blacking out at times.   Both her therapist and her psychiatrist feel that she is not ready for the unsupervised college setting, as well as the accompanying parties, drinking and social pressures.

    However while she is also anxious about going away to college she definitely does not want to live at home for two more years and attend the local community college.   She is chomping at the bit for more independence.    But we believe there is a risk that if we do not allow her to go away to college (i.e. pay for it), she will rebel by going to live with her birth family, who are meth addicts and currently homeless.

    Does anyone know of any programs where she could go away and live in a dorm type setting, earn college credits, feel independent, but receive the therapy and professional support she desperately needs to become stronger and more stable?  We searched looked online, but the supportive gap/pre-college programs seem to be targeted to students with ADHD, autism, or learning differences.  Our daughter is an extremely capable student, but emotionally fragile.   Also, none of the colleges she applied to allow applicants to defer admission, so she either has to reapply as a freshman next year, or as a junior transfer in two years.   Ideally the program would be in California.

    Worried Parent

    Congratulations on your daughter's academic success! Although, I do see that you are facing many challenges. I can't help but wonder why your daughter applied for schools that would require her to live away from home, if that option was not something that her therapist and doctors were supportive of. I don't mean to criticize, but it feels a lot harder to take this opportunity away now that it is real, rather than if you had come up with a transition plan before she decided which schools to apply for. I can definitely empathize that if you don't allow her to go to school, she will be disappointed and upset, which could lead her to finding support and connection with her birth family. You may need to let her struggle and experience failure. It won't be comfortable or easy, whatever you decide. You could decide to send her to school and risk having her engage in risky behavior and fail academically. Or you could take away that as an option and risk having her try life with her birth family. But, whatever happens, I would encourage you to be empathetic and provide a safety net. If she goes to school, let her know that if she needs to come home at anytime, she can. If she chooses her birth family, let her know that you are her family and you support her exploring a relationship with her birth family. Reassure her that she can always come home. She's dealing with adolescence and trauma simultaneously. While she needs support, she's in a time of her life where it's hard to be different from your peers. Her peers are going off to college, but her support team says she's not ready. I know I would have a hard time not feeling disappointed if I were being advised to miss out on something that my peer group was doing, and I'm a grown-up that has not experienced trauma. Add to it that she got accepted. It's like baking a cake and then not getting to eat it once it comes out of the oven! I'm not a mental health professional, but I have worked with teens in foster care transitioning into adulthood. I can't give a professional recommendation, but in my experience working with teens, and my personal experience being a teen that academically was ready for college, but emotionally was not, I would present the facts to her. Help her see all the potential outcomes of the different scenarios. Encourage her to make a decision that she feels is the best for her future, while giving her a safety net, in case she needs one. If she goes away to her top choice school, see if you can find someone in that area to help mentor her - it could be a friend of a friend that lives in the area, a teacher, a staff at a store or restaurant she likes, etc. Having someone to help her stay accountable and help her feel connected will be important, while still giving her the independence and freedom that she is craving, but may not be ready for. Your daughter has a lot of things to work through right now. She is lucky to have your support. I encourage you to get support for yourself, too. It will likely be a tough few years, but what's that saying about losing the battle but winning the war? She may struggle or slide a bit in college, but she'll be learning so much about herself and her family connections and her abilities and interests, which will help her in her future. College is not just about academics - she has more to learn about herself and her healing, as well as academics. Good luck!


    My daughter was also bright, anxious, drinking and accepted into colleges.  I sent her.  She dropped/was kicked out the first year from her drinking, partying and subsequent poor behavior choices.  She was 18 then, she is 32 now, and still an addict.  She has gone to several colleges but each time ends up back in Rehab, on the streets, homeless, and now has legal problems.  The problems just get bigger.  Your daughter's birth parents are addicts and she is exhibiting all the signs of an addict.  Addiction is a genetically passed on disease. Yes addicts are bright, academic, and social wonderful people, but they fail at life. If your daughter had cancer, you wouldn't let her go off to college and hope to find a side treatment that might help.  You would prioritize the cancer.  I suggest you get her help in the form of detox, rehab, AA, and then think about her future college or job.  Many outpatient rehab programs require that you are outside all day at school, work or volunteering, so she could be in college and do rehab.  She could go to Junior College and live in a Sober Living Environment (SLE).  These exist everywhere.  Good luck to you but my suggestion is to focus on getting her sober before anything else, and get yourself into Al-Anon.  Signed, Sobriety First, a Mom who learned the hard way.


    We just attended the annual Gap Year Fair in SF.  Info about their programs is available year-round at:

    They have so many options for HS kids in the summer and for HS graduates.  Some of the programs do give College Credit.  The Gap Year Website is an incredible resource and my friends whose kids have done Gap Year programs have been so, so happy.  Since my 11th grader does not have great grades and does want to go to college, we are looking to do one of these programs to add to his resume/transcript.  There are so many different options, experiences we are still narrowing down what he wants to do (film production, academic-type experience, travel, work-internship, etc.)

    There are also scholarships and consultants to help you find the best program.

    This is a great resource.

    Good luck,

    Mom to atypical learner.

    As a mother of an adopted daughter (whose medical background is completely unknown), who is just heading off to college with similar issues and who is also married to a recovering addict, I have this to say -- to those who say you should be doing more (i.e., get her into detox, rehab, etc.) -- NO you should not. She is an adult. She is not your responsibility anymore. You need to let go with love. Go to Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings yourself. Set your boundaries and stick to them.  Yes, addiction is a disease, but it is also a set of learned behaviors. They can be unlearned some of the time, but not always (so to use the cancer metaphor - not always curable either). I recommend reading the book "Unbroken Brain" by Maia Szalavitz. It will give you real insights into what's actually going on in the brain of an addict.  She's 32, yes? Time for her to sink or swim on her own. Doesn't mean you stop caring or loving her, just means you have to save yourself.

    Oh poo - was replying to a reply - sorry about that! Well to the mom of the 32 year old - I stand by that. As for your situation, we are in a very, very similar situation. Our daughter was NOT accepted to any of the CSUs she applied to, so she's headed to NAU in Flagstaff. There's no particular support network I am aware of here or there, so that's not the point of my advice.  Our daughter's psychiatrist simultaneously advised us to let her fly the coop and hope for the best while preparing for the worst, i.e., that she'll boomerang back after freshman year. One thing we have done is we have required our daughter to continue her treatments with her psychiatrist via phone or Skype while she is away at school, and to see her in person when she comes home for breaks.  So that's one possibility. Our daughter also declined the options of local CC at first and/or a gap year.  If those are out of the question, another thing we tried (although we failed), was to have our daughter go away to a different state to live with family friends who she likes/respects, and attend a local CC there. Maybe that's something to explore - find out if you have family or friends who might be willing to help you out on this, people she loves and trusts. Good luck and do let us know how it works out.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Transferring to a CSU from community college - help for disabled student?

March 2014

My son is thinking of attending community college and then transferring to CSU East Bay. I'd like to hear your experience if your son or daughter has done that. Was it difficult to do so? Also, I've heard that there is a disabled students' program at CSUEB that helps with the transfer/application process. Has anyone had any experience with that program and know how to contact the program director? Mom of a Senior

My daughter is finishing up at Diablo Valley College and has applied to Cal State East Bay for fall admission. She worked with the disabled services division at DVC without much success. However, the Cal State East Bay contact person is very helpful! His name is Brian Johnson, Accessibility Counselor, at 510-885-3868, and email is brian.johnson [at] He works Mon-Thursday, 8am-4:30 pm. He will advocate on behalf of your son for admission to Cal State East Bay. He quickly emails and returns calls to my daughter when she has questions about the transfer process. DC

Our son graduated from CSUEB in June, 2013. His three-year educational experience there was wonderful.

Depending on your son's level of functioning, there are different tiers of support for students with diabilities.

Our son is sufficiently high functioning that he was primarily able to navigate the academic and administrative bureaucracies on his own, without much help from either the accessibility office or his formerly helicopter mom.

Early in the enrollment process, we went to the accessibility office to meet with a counselor. Ours, Brian Johnson, determined what accommodations our son was eligible for - increased time on exams, note-taking service - and set up the computer system to handle them.

After this initial meeting, I never again met with Brian face-to- face, but throughout our son's time at CSUEB, Brian was the go- to guy on the rare occasions when we encountered a bump in the road.

We had two difficulties: On one occasion, a professor was obtuse and our son knew that he would not be able to get an A in the class. This guy thought he was being nice by offering a ''gentleman's C''. Our son had to advise him that he needed to keep up his GPA in order to go to graduate school. Brian helped with the mechanics of dropping the class.

The second problem was supposedly resolved several years ago, yet we did encounter a recurrence. For students with disabilities whose tuition at CSU is paid by the state Department of Rehabilitation (DOR), it is often the battle of the bureaucracies. In the old days, if DOR was late in sending the fee voucher at the beginning of the term, the CSU computer system would drop the student from all her/his classes due to unpaid fees. This was corrected by flagging the enrollment files of the DOR eligible students. But when our son was a senior, the DOR got a new computer system that was not recognized by the CSU system, so I had to scramble to fix the problem.

For students needing a greater degree of support, there is Project IMPACT, that provides a comprehensive program for students on the autism spectrum. They had a 5 year grant; not sure whether it is being renewed.

Other supports include formal programs that introduce students to each other for group study sessions. This gets great reviews, although our son did not participate.

The strongest factor correlated with success by students with disabilities is their ability to self-advocate. IF your son is able to pro-actively, regularly attend the office hours of each of this professors, it will be tremendously enriching.

The faculty at CSU, in our experience, were 99.999% absolutely wonderful, and I would certainly recommend the school to others.

Good luck! Amelia

I just attended the annual Alameda County post-secondary Transition Fair for disabled students on Mar. 15 and now have the current service guide. It looks as if Alamdeda CC has a very attuned special ed./disabled student dept.

(A former student of mine is having a difficult time at Laney even though they do have a special ed/disabled student division.)

Start by checking in with East Bay Special Education Center (SELPA) through Alameda County.

Be aware that there is a HUGE shift for special ed students after graduating HS. Public Schools are REQUIRED to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) until a student graduates from high school. After that, special ed services are ''available'' not required. It is all up to the student/family to find those appropriate services and for the student to gain skills in self-advocacy.

DREDF can help you for little or no cost with rights and resources. Best of luck, Belinda

Suitable college for visually-impaired daughter

April 2010

My 16 year old daughter is visually impaired and struggles with regular math and biology. Is there some college in CA that might be suited to him? I have heard of Hampshire and Evergreen but am wondering about some college in California that would be more affordable yet offering a different approach to education? Wondering Mom

I wouldn't discount Hampshire. My son goes there and loves it. He received significant financial aid so it costs less than the UC's for us. He also has a physical disability and learning disabilities and, although it is not an easy school and he works very hard there, he has received the support he needs there as long as he asks for it. UCSC seems to be the closest match in California, at least for what areas my son was interested in. chiliconmom

Comfortable college for daughter with OCD & ADD

May 2009

would love any feedback on appropriate(comfortable fit) colleges for my soon to be senior daughter. Her special needs relate to her ADD, OCD and resource support. She wants to stay in California and loves theater, but excels in math and science. We hope some type of mentoring program will help assist her academically and emotionally when she is nervous or sad far from home. She has liked UCLA, USC, Redlines and UCSB. However we live in Orinda and think something closer might be better. thanks very much! N.

Hi, The schools you mention are all really large schools. I would think your daughter would do much better in a smaller more intimate setting where she would have small classes and have a good one-on-one time with her teachers. For that, I think you are looking at private schools... Check out all the privates in the area. Her school counselor should be able to recommend some to you. If you are thinking as far as the LA area, consider Whittier. Or in the other direction, even though it's not in CA it's about as far on the plane, Lewis and Clark in Portland. Depending on your income level, all schools give financial aid and the privates have more grants and scholarships to give in this day and age!! good luck. anon

I work at UC Berkeley and we have a pretty good Disabled Students Program for students with emotional problems like ADD and OCD. We have just hired a psychologist to work at DSP in addition to the other staff. My son went to UCSD; he had several learning issues and auditory processing, auditory memory. The disabled program only had about 45 kids out of 25,000 in their program. They refused to help my son after we had additional testing done twice at their suggestion. We gave up. There is a book on disabled programs that colleges offer. It varies quite a bit from school to school. Judy