Brian L., 19, recently graduated from high school, having been in special education programs since kindergarten. He has a number of learning differences, including autism spectrum disorder. In August, he enters freshman year at Millersville University, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Here, he talks about his public school experience and his eagerness to start college.
Q: How did you like high school?
A: Freshman year was hard since, after I finished middle school, my family moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania, so I didn’t know anyone. But things got easier over time, because I entered clubs. For a couple years, I was president of the Video Game Club. I was also involved in the Anime Club (a distinctive Japanese style of animation). And in senior year, I played quidditch.
Q: What’s that?
A: It’s a “wizard” version of soccer, like in the Harry Potter books. It’s big on a lot of college campuses. You can google it.
Q: I will, I’m afraid I’ve never read the Harry Potter books.
A: The movies are better.
Q: Were there additional things you think your school could have done to support students with learning differences?
A: I really didn’t have any complaints. My school was very supportive of people with special needs. If I was struggling, it was reported to the helper teacher. But my mom might have a different opinion. [See comments by Brian’s mother, below.]
Q: How about college, are you looking forward to it? Will you be living on campus or commuting?
A: Yes, I’m very excited! The school requires that freshmen and sophomores live on campus, so I’ll be in a dorm.
Q: What are you looking forward to most?
A: That I’ll get to choose a lot of the classes I take and most of them will be targeted at my major, history.
Q: Why are you choosing to major in history?
A: It’s interesting to learn what has happened and why it happened. I like reading about what the common people from other eras thought. Not George Washington, but what his soldiers had to say about the war. That’s an example. I’d like to be an archivist when I graduate.
Q: How else do you think college will be different from high school?
A: I know I’ll need to be more assertive. They won’t ask me if I need help. College is more like a job.
Q: Does Millersville have any support services for students with disabilities?
A: Yes, lots. There’s a building I can go to with assistive technology, and a couple of study rooms that are isolated and quiet, because I need that. There’ll be a graduate assistant who’ll help me with time management and other issues.
Q: Is there any advice you’d give to others with learning differences who want to go to college?
A: Go forward and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. I had people tell me I probably wouldn’t be able to go to college. They were wrong.
We asked Brian’s mom for her perspective on his school experience, and she shared the following:
Brian’s dad and I were strong advocates for him throughout all of his years of school, holding Brian accountable for his work, and the educators that worked with him accountable for his IEP (Individualized Education Plan)accommodations. The teachers and therapists that worked with Brian in all of the public schools he attended were professional and hard working. Although some were stronger than others, the administration was always helpful in finding a “good fit” for Brian in the classroom. In the early years, when a teacher or two was overwhelmed and could not see how Brian could progress at the rate we hoped, we were able to make classroom changes to better suit Brian, the teachers and all the other students. We were frustrated in the last few years, when public school budgets were on the decline and special education positions (both teachers and support staff) were reduced, raising the student-teacher ratio to numbers too high to be productive. Most professionals in the special education department seem overwhelmed due to their high case load.