For Families: Changing Role of Families

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As the parent of a son or daughter with an intellectual disability, you have likely been providing advocacy and support for their educational needs for many years. You have attended IEP meetings, called and visited teachers, received regular reports on how your child is doing in school, and when things got tough you were at the school ensuring that your son or daughter’s needs were being met. Now your son or daughter is going off to college, and your role changes too. Perhaps one of the most difficult changes you will experience is that your supportive role must be "behind the scenes." You are no longer the spokesperson—your son or daughter must become a self-advocate and speak for themselves. Rather than doing it yourself, you instead encourage and support your son or daughter to learn self-advocacy skills and become a self-sufficient adult.

Privacy and the College Student

According to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), college students are considered responsible adults and are allowed to determine who will receive information about them. If you would like to have access to college records, your child will need to give permission for you to access his/her records by filing a FERPA Student Consent form. Or, if you claim your son or daughter as a dependent on your Internal Revenue tax forms, you are allowed to view elements of your child's education record such as class schedule, grades, and dates of attendance; to gain access, you have to complete and submit the Parental Affidavit for Academic Information form. Of course, the student can always share their information directly with you at any time.

These forms will give you access to your student’s records, but college policy and practice will still make it unlikely that college professors will expect to talk to you. The relationship in college is between the professor and the student, and it is important for families to honor this as much as possible. Although this can be a difficult transition for you and for your daughter or son, it is a critical step on the road to increased independence. It is critical that they learn as much as possible to speak up and advocate for themselves. You may witness your student struggling at times, but please try to squelch the urge to "rescue" your son or daughter and allow him/her to resolve issues. You can foster growth and independence by encouraging your son/daughter to talk to his/her professors and use the resources on campus.

If concerns arise, it is better to speak to the program staff rather than going directly to faculty. Your concerns will be most effectively dealt with in this way.

Providing Information and Learning from Mistakes

Although your role as a parent is changing, you are also an “expert” on what works and what doesn’t for your son or daughter. It is perfectly okay, and very helpful, for you to say to the college early on “Ask me what I think is important for you to know about my kid.”

Parents need and should have a chance to express their fears, as well as give tips on what has been successful in the past. If you have this conversation, college programs are not left in the position of trying to anticipate issues and solve them without the context and background that parents can provide.

Finally, it is important to remember that college students learn by trying new things, and sometimes failing—but learning from those “failures.” Don’t jump in to rescue your student.  Let him make the mistake—even though you may see it coming.  Remember that this can be a positive experience. Try to find some successes in the experience.  What did she do right?  Did he handle the situation well?  Did she show integrity and honesty in admitting to the mistake?  Look at the positives. As college parents, it is important that we recognize that our students will make mistakes.  It is difficult to watch, but it is through many of these mistakes that our college students will grow and mature.

To Learn More: 

In this video, four parents discuss the changes they saw in their kids, and in themselves, when their kids went off to college....Read more

An article from Psychology Today that discusses the difficult process of "letting go" of our sons and daughters as they go off to college.Read more

Example of a form that a college would ask a student to sign in order to release educational records to their parents.Read more

Example of a form that a parent can sign to documnt that they claim their son/daughter as a dependent on their federal tax return, thereby providing them with view elements of their child's educational record.Read more