February 28


How to Self-Advocate as a College Student with a Learning Disability

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

February 28, 2020

Self-advocacy is necessary for college students with learning disabilities as they navigate their postsecondary education. If you are a student with a learning disability, learning to self-advocate allows you to gain the tools you need to get the most out of your college learning experience. Reviewing information about how you can self-advocate may provide you with the direction you need to begin your self-advocacy journey.

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What Is Self-Advocacy?

College Counselor Helping College Student
Image via Flickr by Mizzou CAFNR.

Self-advocacy is a term used to represent the act of advocating for yourself by speaking up for your interests and needs. If you are a college student with a learning disability—such as a reading learning disorder, a writing learning disorder, or mathematics learning disorder—you can self-advocate by discussing your needs and limitations with a member of the faculty, such as a professor, disability services administrator, or student advisor who can provide you with accommodations to help you succeed in college.

How Can Self-Advocacy Help You

Advocating for yourself takes time and effort, but the benefits of self-advocating may help make your college experience more enjoyable. Here are some ways self-advocacy can help you:

  • It helps you build confidence. The more you self-advocate, the easier it gets. When you realize people want to help you and contribute to your college success, it builds self-confidence.
  • It improves your assignment and test scores. When you self-advocate, you get what you need to boost your learning ability, such as a quiet place to take tests, verbal responses to test questions, frequent breaks, and other accommodations. Depending on your learning disability, the accommodations your college gives you after you self-advocate can improve your testing and assignment performance.
  • It reduces anxiety. Certain learning disabilities may cause anxiety over things such as giving presentations, answering questions in class, or testing. Once you self-advocate, you can begin letting go of some of your anxieties about school and the learning process.
  • It enhances your communication skills. Speaking up for yourself throughout your education may help you communicate your needs in other areas of your life. For example, when you enter the workforce, it’ll be easier for you to speak up during team meetings or to ask managers for help on a task or project.

How to Self-Advocate as a College Student With a Learning Disability

Here are the steps you can take in college to learn how to self-advocate for your needs regarding your learning disability:

Understand Yourself and What You Need

The first step to self-advocacy is understanding how you think and recognizing your strengths and weaknesses. By assessing how you process information in and out of class, you can start to strategize and discover what accommodations work best for you. While your professors and administrators can offer suggestions for how to help, everyone learns differently, so it is important to customize your learning experience according to what you can do with your learning disability.

If you are unsure of how your disability affects you, try reaching out to an expert in your learning disability, researching information online, or keeping documentation about your disability in a binder or folder for quick access.

Knowing how your professor, classroom, or college can help you allows you to self-advocate more efficiently and take control of your education.

Meet With Disability Services

Before you start school, meet with your college’s disability services to discuss what accommodations you need for the upcoming semester. During your meeting, be sure to discuss why you need these accommodations and explain what does and doesn’t work for you. Take your disability information with you as well as your most recent diagnostic documentation.

If disability services can’t accommodate one of your requests, they may offer other suggestions. Be honest with them if their suggestions don’t work for you, and come prepared with alternative ideas.

Know Your Rights

You have rights as an adult with a learning disability. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the laws set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act that ensure equal access and equal opportunities to individuals with several kinds of disabilities that hinder major life activities.

These laws provide you with protection and require private and public institutions to make certain reasonable accommodations for you, as long as the accommodations you are requesting don’t cause the university undue hardships.

Understanding your rights and communicating them in a constructive way contributes to your ability to self-advocate effectively in college.

Set Up an Appointment With Your Professors

Plan to meet with your professors at least a week before you require accommodations for testing or instruction. Due to their busy schedules, it’s best to contact a professor’s office or send them an email to request an appointment rather than waiting for them before or after class.

If you aren’t sure what you’d like to say, prepare a short script that you can recite to yourself or practice with a friend or family member. This can help reduce anxiety and make you feel more prepared to let them know what you need.

When you meet with your professor, be sure to bring your disability documentation, including any documents regarding your reasonable accommodation approval from student services. Some professors may want to review the information or keep a copy of your approval documents.

Focus On Building Self-Advocacy Skills

Each time you speak up for yourself, it is an opportunity to build self-advocacy skills. Your school may not be able to meet your needs each time you try to self-advocate, and each professor or administrator will react differently to what you request, but the more often you ask, the more likely you will get what you ask for. Be proud of the skills you cultivate by speaking up for yourself.

Be Assertive and Persistent

It’s important to be persistent when you require accommodations from your college or university. Professors and administrators have many students to oversee and work with. If you asked for something and it’s been delayed, follow up to get updates about your requests. Assert yourself while remaining respectful as you self-advocate for what you need.

The better you understand your needs and rights, the easier self-advocating will become for you. Educating yourself and practicing what you need to say with supportive friends and family can help you prepare to self-advocate more effectively. So, contact your disability services center (or NeuroHealth Arlington Heights) and meet with your professors to begin improving your college experience.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.