Self-Advocacy Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities

Review by Kathy Kuhl      Self-Advocacy Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities:
Making It Happen in College and Beyond, by Henry B. Reiff, Ph.D.

Your child with learning challenges may be going to college. What help will they need? How will they get it? What can help them navigate the system to get available services?

Dr. Henry Reiff cares deeply about these issues. As a professor of special education at McDaniel College, he focuses on this area in his research. But it’s a practical concern. Dr. Reiff has been an advocate and guide to many students.

Self-Advocacy Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities: Making it Happen in College and Beyond covers three areas in three enormous chapters. They are: getting into college, staying in college, and succeeding in graduate school or at work.

Getting into college

Reading the first few pages, you might think this book would only help families with kids in public school. Dr. Reiff assumes your student is in school and has a guidance counselor and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan (which provide for students with medical issues including ADHD). Some subsections are labeled tips for Students, parents, or guidance counselors. (As homeschool parents, we can wear two hats, or hire help. See below.) But there is plenty of practical help for homeschool families, as well.

For those of you with IEPs (if your child had one in school, never throw it away!), you may be in for a surprise. IEPs and 504 plans are not binding on colleges. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does apply to colleges. The ADA defines disabilities more narrowly, as “substantively limiting one or more major life activity.” So students may not qualify for services, especially if ADHD has been their only diagnosis. (P. 7)

After discussing which testing is useful for students seeking accommodations in college, Dr. Reiff covers many helpful topics:

  • Obstacles to getting documentation colleges may require
  • Transition planning year by year, for the grades 8 to 12
  • Factors in choosing a college for students with learning disabilities
  • Levels of service offered,
  • Large versus small colleges, pros and cons for LD

Advice for parents and students

Dr. Reiff gives good practical advice on getting to know colleges you are considering and their disability support services. He considers the pros and cons of attending a school identified as a “LD college.”

I like that he addresses students with good advice as they begin to search. He does not talk down to students. He uses a conversational tone, but with lots of useful content.

The author talks about how students can and should understand their disabilities and strengths. Teens may be accustomed to letting parents deal with reports and evaluations from education and mental health professionals. Before college, it’s time to develop some self-knowledge: what’s hard for me, why, and what is easier. (Later on, in chapter 2, on pp. 69-78, the author provides a very helpful section on helping students decipher their own neuropsychological evaluations and apply the results.) Also, it helps them learn what kinds of help to ask for from the college disability services center.

Helpfully, Dr. Reiff covers how to write a college application if you have learning disabilities. He weighs the pros and cons of disclosing a disability in the application, and pitfalls to avoid. He advises parents on how much and how little to be involved, and discusses applying for loans.

Staying in School

Chapter two, “Staying There: Self-Advocacy in College,” forms half the book, over 100 pages. But the author does break it up into sections and subsections. However, without an index, the book doesn’t make it easy to find particulars, so be sure to mark it up and take notes.

But the table of contents does break out subsections, which include: goal planning, tracking progress, daily and weekly schedules, dorm life, how to study, and more. The section on assistive technology is dated. No surprise since the book was published in 2007. But a book published two years ago would be dated on assistive technology, too. It’s hard to keep up with this fast-changing area. (See below.)

To give a few specifics, the book mentions tape recorders, not smart pens (see below) or digital voice recorders. Since publication of this book, many articles have discussed the disadvantages of using computers to take notes, but that is also missing. Computers are only mentioned as an advantage.

Also, Dr. Reiff covers students asserting their rights, and working while in college. He includes tip for parents and guidance counselors.

Graduate School and Work

If you are seriously worried that your teen will flunk out of college, the idea of grad school may seem crazy. But Dr. Reiff points out that sometimes by then, managing school is easier. At international meetings of the Learning Disabilites Association, I’ve attended workshops on helping students get accommodations for the grad school admission exams. Marshall University presented on their program to help medical students with learning disabilities. Remember, learning disabled does not mean not capable, or not smart!

So, in Chapter 3, Dr. Reiff moves on to look at how students with learning disabilities can succeed in graduate school and at work. The issue of whether to disclose a disability is more complex at work. He discusses social skills, success, and finding the right career.

Near the end, he briefly gets more personal. He discuss his great struggles in undergraduate school. Earlier, he described taking a semester to determine that getting drunk was not a good idea, something to discuss with any young adult. But his recovery from this and other bad choices can encourage your teens. Even if they fail badly, there is hope.

I recommend Henry B. Reiff’s book, Self-Advocacy Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities: Making It Happen in College and Beyond.

What resources have helped your student navigate services in college? Leave your comments below.


This concludes a series on helping college students with learning disabilities. The series began here.

Homeschool parents can hire agencies, such as Bass Education Services, to help with the college search for a student with learning disabilities.

Pete and Pam Wright are lawyers who specialize in special education law. At, they also provide  information on accommodations in college exams, and accommodations in college, here. According to their site, the Wrights “were Adjunct Professors of Law at the William and Mary School of Law where they taught a course about special education law and advocacy and assisted in creating the Law School’s Special Education Law Clinic. They are co-founders and faculty at the William and Mary Law School Institute of Special Education Advocacy (ISEA).”

The Self-Advocacy Strategy for Enhancing Student Motivation & Self-Determination (An Education & Transition Planning Process) Paperback – 2002, by Candace S. Bos, Jean B. Schumaker, Donald D. Deshler Anthony K. Van Reusen.

Joan Green’s website on assistive technology is one of many resources in this ever-changing field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.