Success Story - Jennifer Goes to College

Jennifer developed self- advocacy and life skills, and learned to take charge of her own life.

What made it all work? Starting planning early; having everyone on the team involved, especially Jennifer; lots of research; taking a holistic approach

Who were the key people involved? Jennifer, her parents, special education coordinator, speech pathologist, psychologist

When did you start? We started planning and researching in junior high school.

What was creative? Innovative? We found opportunities for Jennifer to “try out” her desired career such as attending the Adventures in Veterinary Medicine program at Tufts.

We made a one page “cheat sheet” that introduced Jennifer to her high school teachers. By the end of high school, she wrote the sheet herself and this helped her to explain her disability to people and learn how to ask for help.

How did you experiment? The entire process was a kind of experiment with much trial and error and reformulation of ideas.

How did you apply student-centered practices? Jennifer was the main driver of the entire process as well as being responsible for doing research on different things herself such as colleges, how to navigate transportation, etc. She participated in all meetings, decisions, and planning. No one on the team ever “told” her what to do. We discussed her goals and what steps she would need to take in order to reach them. Sometimes, she would decide that she did not want to take a particular step. In those cases, we let her know what the probable repercussions would be and then stepped back. It was and is her life, her team, her choice.

Were groups outside of school involved? Jennifer’s main goal was college and, at the time, vet school, and preparing for that was the main focus. Life skills were her parents’ realm of responsibility.

Activities that encouraged student growth and development?

  • Attending the Adventures in Veterinary Medicine program at Tufts
  • Learning how to drive
  • Learning about financial responsibility (budgeting, bill paying, keeping accounts)
  • Learning how to plan meals, shop and cook
  • Learning how to do laundry, clean house and schedule appointments for herself
  • Personal hygiene training
  • Self-advocacy training

Surprises? Almost every day, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Things rarely went exactly as we had planned.

Challenges along the way?Jennifer decided to not disclose her disability when applying to colleges. This came back to bite her a couple of years into college. In the end, she did disclose and applied with the disability services office for supports.

Lessons learned? Early planning is key to success, as is being flexible. Be prepared for more difficulty accessing services especially if your student is attending an out of state institution. Sometimes you just have to step back and trust that your student can do this, even if they fail, that’s part of learning and living.

What will you carry forward to your work with other students?

  • You can’t and shouldn’t try to plan someone else’s life. You can help them to plan their own way.
  • The earlier you begin, the better off you are.
  • The more involved a student is, the better the outcome.

Submitted by Trisha Swonger, Mom and Volunteer Advocate. Contact Trisha for more information. 

Added 4/20/20