Kyle Redford Discusses Preparing Her Son for College with Dyslexia
Research shows that students with learning disabilities or ADHD who do well in school tend to be those who have supportive parents/guardians. It's important, though, that parents also help their student build self-sufficiency.
The documentary “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia,” featured Kyle Redford, an educator, writer, and advocate, and her son Dylan as Dylan was getting re-evaluated to document his dyslexia in order to request accommodations at college. [Read about Dylan's college transition and experiences here.] In this post, Kyle discusses other ways in which she and her husband prepared Dylan for college.
Q. What supports did your student have in high school?
A. Dylan did not have an IEP or a 504 plan and did not qualify for special education services in his public high school because he had earned strong grades in his previous school, which was a rigorous independent one. In a situation that happens so often to too many students, his high school would not screen him because he was not failing or profoundly struggling academically. [Author note - lack of a high school IEP or 504 does not mean students won't get accommodated at college. Learn more here.]
His enlightened counselor warned us from the start that it would be a waste of school resources and parent time and energy to fight that fight. But – luckily for Dylan - she had much experience working around the system of obstacles that often prevent students from getting access to key accommodations.
She asked for our independent learning evaluation, read it and then asked me to write up what supports were put in place to help Dylan thrive at his previous school (laptop, some audiobooks, extra time on tests and relief from in-class spelling expectations). Then she sent that letter to all of his teachers and asked them to continue these supports.
They did that without much pushback, but one teacher must have thought that being lenient about spelling on a geography test meant providing Dylan with some advantage. She decided to “even things up” by adding extra countries for him to identify! (Dylan was able to laugh about it.)
Dylan's greatest asset was his self-knowledge and ability to self-advocate. He really understood his challenges and felt comfortable naming them and earnestly soliciting his teacher's support. He had a way of inviting them to be on his team and they became invested in his success.
Even when teachers didn't initially get it, Dylan had a way of also educating those teachers along the way. He had one teacher/ advisor who was openly surprised that Dylan planned on going to college. Not only did that teacher learn how silly it was for him to have had such low expectations for Dylan, but he eventually became an informed ally and advocate about students’ special needs.
Q. What supports did you provide at home?
A. With two writers as parents, Dylan had a lot of editing help and extra writing instruction. However, I think one of the biggest things parents of students with disabilities can do is to let their student incrementally build a sense of autonomy and independence before they graduate high school. For us, that meant weaning our son from our organizational reminders and academic coaching.
Our early investments in intensive writing support eventually morphed into straightforward copy editing that he was able to replace with many alternative sources once he left for college. As graduation approached and his anxiety increased, it helped to be able to remind him that he really didn't need our help anymore. I don't know how I would have done that if we were still helping him rearrange and compose his sentences.
We also hired him a math tutor. Dylan struggled quite a bit with math and even had to take the math competency test several times in order to achieve a passing grade so that he could graduate.
I would argue the biggest thing we provided was emotional and life support. We tried to make sure he ate well, slept enough and exercised. We also helped him to keep an orderly environment and a sane schedule.
He also had emotional support with his inevitable frustration and disappointments. As his teacher mom, I was able to put his struggles in perspective and help him to better understand his dyslexia and how to communicate effectively with his teachers. Having said that, he was innately gifted as a communicator. I only gave him a few insights that he put to good use.
Q. What accommodations did your student get when starting college?
A. Dylan was accommodated with extra time to complete his tests and permission to record lectures. Because speech-to-text technology was not as sophisticated at that point as it is now, Dylan did not use it, even though it was offered to him. He did use recording books when they were available.
Dylan also significantly benefited from a freshman college writing course and peer editors that were made available to all students, not just students with learning issues. His professors were accommodating when it came to scheduling long-term projects and papers as long as he made his case for a due date change well in advance of the due date.
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Hear more from Kyle and and also from Dylan Redford in my book. (Dylan's reflections in the preface about success models are really thoughtful.) Read From High School to College: Steps to Success for Students with Disabilities.