Is your teen considering flying the coop to attend university or college? For many parents this creates a whole new list of worries and anxieties. Maybe a part of you is looking forward to your teen going away. But chances are you are worried about how they will manage without you as their safety net.
Some years ago I was one of those students moving out for university. My parents had considerable concern – not only was I a female moving to a city where I did not know a soul, I also have a significant disability. I have a severe hearing loss in my left ear and am deaf in my right ear. I wear a hearing aid during the day and am quite deaf by night. Before shipping out to university, my parents were my alarm clock, my advocate in school and my protectors. They worried about things like, “What if a fire starts in the middle of the night? How will you wake up?” and “What if your professors aren’t willing to accommodate you?”
The lovely thing about moving away to attend school is that it is a training field for real, grown-up life. I had to find assistive devices, ask for help, and learn how to advocate for myself. Sure, I had some problems. And my parents were there on the phone, giving me advice. For example, my university declined my request for note-taking services when I found myself struggling with notes. The thing is, I manage quite well and so my disability is almost invisible to others. My parents suggested I ask my audiologist and the local Canadian Hearing Society for help, and sure enough, both provided letters explaining why my disability makes it hard for me to write my own lecture notes. It worked and from then on, my university made every effort to accommodate me. It was a learning experience and I am grateful for it.
Tips for students with disabilities and other special needs
- Write to the school as soon as you find out your acceptance. Explain your disability or special need and what accommodation you might need.
- Arrange to meet with your school’s disability services during the first week of school (or sooner if possible)
- If your school refuses your request for accommodation, ask for help. Get a letter from your doctor and any other specialist, explaining your disability and how the accommodation helps level the playing field for you. Ask for help from local advocacy groups.
- Apply for all the scholarships and bursaries you can find. A perk of having a disability or special need is that there are some scholarships and bursaries especially for us.
Research assistive devices. Embrace them. I found they make my life easier. I was worried they would prevent me from making friends, and was pleasantly surprised that was never the case.
If your assistive device is necessary for school, ask if they can pay for it
Follow your heart when deciding on your program. Try not to let your disability limit your dreams. Today’s society is becoming much more accepting. I am a registered nurse, and yes, I can listen to your heart and take your blood pressure using my special stethoscope which was paid for by my university!
Tips for parents
- Encourage your teen to make their own decisions regarding school, program of study, and whether they want to move away or not
- Support your teen in advocating for their own needs and asserting their independence
- Once your teen has moved out, support them by phoning regularly and ask how they are doing, and try not to be over-bearing or over-involved
- Tell your teen how proud you are! I know my parents grieved when they first found out about my disability and had worried what my future might hold. Excelling in life with a disability is no easy task.
Moving away from home, living in residence and later living with friends made my university years amazing. The experience of living in residence is like no other. I have fond memories of discussing the meaning of life over pizza at 2 a.m. and our floor’s ritual of belting out Green Day songs at the top of our lungs just before an exam to pump us up. I made life-long friends and am grateful my parents trusted me enough to let me go.
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