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Overcoming Special Needs Obstacles at College, Part 1

Many parents of kids with special needs worry about the obstacles their children will face if they go to college. Guest blogger Kathy Guzzo found advocating for her daughter was an effective antidote to worry. In today’s post she explains what she learned about how to advocate in the college setting.

Overcoming Unexpected Obstacles, Part 1

As I look back on our daughter’s college years and all the struggles she had because of her chronic illness, I’m reminded of all the things I would’ve done differently if I knew then what I learned in the process. I don’t mean things that pertain to her health, but things that would’ve made her life easier as she dealt with her health issues.  It’s true that hindsight is always 20/20.

I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

Having had two older daughters that had gone to college, in fact at one time all three of them were in college, I felt I had a handle on what hurdles would come up. Such as not getting along with a roommate, books being unavailable, classes being mixed up, etc. but Andrea’s issues were different.

Dietary Obstacles

Because she is lactose intolerant and had some other dietary problems, the food in the cafeteria was the first thing we had to address.  So we talked with the school dietician and she came up with a list of items Andrea was able to eat.

Housing Obstacles

Then, by the end of her first semester, we realized that because of her chronic fatigue and low immune system, she needed a single room so she could rest whenever necessary and to alleviate the risk of illness, not just from her roommate, but also from the community showers/bath.  Since single rooms were considered for upper classmen, this took some convincing. However, we kept insisting and with the help of the Student Life Counselor she was in her new room before the second semester.

Medical Obstacles

We thought that would solve the issue but after repeated infections her doctors recommended that she live off campus, another ‘no-no’ for underclassmen. After talking with those in housing and again with the Student Life Counselor, getting the permission to move off campus wasn’t a struggle. What did become a problem was that she would lose a lot of her financial aid by not living on campus, which would add to our financial burden. I again spoke with the Financial Aid Department as well as the Dean and they agreed that if we could get a doctor to say she must live off campus for health reasons they would reinstate her housing allowance.  So for the next 4 years she lived in an apartment off campus. I must admit I was nervous about her living alone 200 miles from home, but the health risks were to numerous to overlook.

Parking Obstacles

Another concern was parking. Her college was literally right on Lake Michigan which gets extremely cold and windy in the winter and the student parking lot quite a walk to any building.   So once again, I found out whom to contact and I requested an exception asking that she be allowed to park in the visitor’s lot, which was much closer to an entrance. Once again, I had to be persistent, but they did agree and actually gave her a student handicapped sticker so she could park in a handicap spot because many times the visitor’s lot was full.

Educating Those Involved Is Critical

Surprisingly, the area that we had the most resistance in helping her was with a few of her professors who would get upset because she missed so many classes because of doctor’s appointments and illness, and not let her make up work.  At one point a professor asked her for a doctor’s note which I thought was ridiculous. Again, I went to the Dean of Students explaining that we were paying for college and Andrea should not be punished because she was ill. After much discussion he agreed and sent email to all her professors giving the basics of her illness, that it was understood that she may miss several classes due to illness and appointments and she would be allowed to do make up assignments online and even turn them in late if necessary as long as all work was completed by the end of each semester.

What Obstacles Have You Overcome?

What obstacles have your children faced in their education careers? How did you advocate for them? Leave a comment to share your experience and return tomorrow when Kathy shares her tips about how to be an effective advocate.

See you then,

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