The Learning Disabilities Association of Washington thanks all those who attended Transition Strategies on November 21, 2013. A special thanks is owed to panelists and sponsors who made this informative evening possible. The event was a tremendous success with a great turnout out by parents, educators, and LD resource providers.


Transition Strategies provided parents and guardians with strategies for children with learning disabilities to continue smoothly from high school to institutions of higher learning. The event featured panelists representing different learning environments (with perspectives from a university, private preparatory school, and technical institute) on popular transition topics. Here is a brief summary of the advice given by the panelists.

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Bree Callahan - University of Washington Kelly Moore - Eastside Preparatory School Heidi Shepherd - Lake Washington Institute of Technology
Bree Callahan, M.Ed.
Disability Resources for Students
University of Washington
Kelly Moore, Ph.D.
Student Support Services
Eastside Preparatory School
Heidi Shepherd, M.Ed.
Faculty Coordinator
Social & Human Services Program
Lake Washington Technical Institute

To disclose or not disclose a learning disability

Admissions – yes
Disability office – yes
Instructor / professor – use caution

An attendee asked if her child should disclose his learning disability during the application process.
According to Bree Callahan, there is no harm for your children to disclose their learning disability in their personal statement because the added detail can enrich and provide context to the admission committee’s decision. In fact, disclosing a learning disability could be used as a selling point to show how your child has been successful at overcoming challenges and handling adversity.

One positive aspect of disclosing a learning disability is that the information can be used to explain discrepancies between grades and test scores. It is also important for your children to be able to discuss what their learning disability means to them, and also being able to describe those learning environments and accommodations that work best. – Kelly Moore, Eastside Preparatory School

Left to right: Heidi Shepherd, Bree Callahan, Kelly Moore

Left to right: Kelly Moore, Bree Callahan, Heidi Shepherd

Admissions offices cannot legally reject applicants who disclose that they have a learning disability in their personal statement. Heidi Shepherd mentioned that your child can definitely state that they have a learning disability on their application because the admissions office knows what it entails for the student and for the school. Heidi recommends that your student not talk (or use caution when talking) about his/her learning disability with an instructor because not all instructors have the complete awareness and understanding of what it means to have a learning disability, which could cause unnecessary misperceptions. It’s not helpful to admissions offices or instructors if your student states a diagnosis without any additional context.

Bree suggests that your children disclose this information towards the junior or senior year when they are working more closely with instructors on larger, more involved projects.

What is most important for a child transitioning to higher learning?

Work with your child on self-advocacy as early as you can so that he/she is aware of their disability. Your children will thrive if they are aware of how their learning disability has impacted past learning and understand which accommodations were most helpful to them.

The importance of self-advocacy

Self-advocacy is an important skill to foster in your child for all transitions in life, especially high school to college. The high school to college transition involves a paradigm shift in learning – in high school 80% of learning is teacher-led (20% student-led) and then in college the proportion reverses where 80% of learning is student-led versus 20% instructor-led. As a result, self-advocacy becomes an important element to your child’s success. Your child may not have the same level of face-to-face time with instructors in a higher-learning environment as they had in high school so it’s paramount for your child to seek out support and accommodation on their own behalf. – Bree Callahan, University of Washington

Transition Strategies - Overview

Transition is for parent and child alike

Transitioning from high school to college is just as much a process for you (the parent) as it is for the child. Your role as a parent changes from manager to cheerleader and coach. You can’t make your child seek accommodations, nor can you make the institution take on this responsibility on your behalf. Your children will need to take a greater role in managing their learning environment and coursework – the best thing that you can do as a parent is help them prepare for the transition and then be there for them as they embark on their new learning adventure. – Heidi Shepherd, Lake Washington Technical Institute

Preparing for transition with your child

There are a lot of nuances to choosing the appropriate college/university with your child. A good start is to learn about the learning disability resources available as you start to research prospective schools.

It’s important to recognize that K-12 offers more resources for learning disabilities when compared to the services offered by colleges and universities. That’s why it’s good to know how resource departments at prospective schools are staffed. When looking at schools, ask about the staffing levels from the resources department for supporting the student body. Then factor in the overall size of the school – it’s often better to have fewer students per resource aid.

Transition Strategies - Networking

Additional strategies for easing the transition:

Start off with fewer credits (courses) for the first semester to ease the transition
Avoid taking difficult courses the first quarter/ semester
Start out at a small, regional college and then encourage your children to transition when they are thriving in this higher learning environment
Pick a college and courses that best match your child’s learning style

During the months prior to the school start date, prepare for possible options and resources your child can turn to if he/she encounters difficulty. Bree notes that your child is the only person who can disclose information about how he/she is performing. This means your child’s school will not tell you how your child is performing – that’s unless your student signs a FERPA release, which authorizes the institution to speak with you about your child’s performance.

Failure is a misconception

One attendee asked about any signs or markers to look out for that would indicate that your child is not transitioning well. Bree mentioned that while failure is a possibility there are other areas that could indicate a difficult transition, including roommate conflict or a newly formed relationship that can distract your child from his/her academic responsibilities. In terms of signs, not engaging and not seeking assistance are relatively common for students facing difficulties.


There were several questions about testing and accommodations for the SAT and ACT, as well as testing and qualifying for accommodation and LD resources at college. Ultimately, testing must be current between 9th and 10th grade.


SAT and ACT: For the SAT, your child’s testing must be no more than five years while the ACT is more stringent and requires testing to be fresh within three years.

Accommodation and resources: While each institution has its own documentation and guidelines for testing recency, the University of Washington requires testing at the adult level (from 8th grade on). The moderator, Elizabeth Smith, mentioned that the adult IQ is considered to start at age 16. Heidi at Lake Washington Technical mentioned that they are looking at the students’ functional assessment and what it means to them in terms of their rights and accommodations.