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Personal qualities special needs students must develop to graduate from college

Special needs students can succees in college
Special needs students can succees in college

Children with special needs such as attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities and autism have experienced more frustration and academic failure than most other children. In spite of this, some of them become successful college graduates. Sadly, most do not. Only about 57 percent of students with disabilities graduate from high school, and only about 10 to 15 percent of those who graduate from high school attend college. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of those students who begin their college experience eventually graduate.

Students who have the following personal qualities are much more likely to thrive in college. You can read more detailed descriptions of the qualities that insure college success online at the Frostig Center.

Self-awareness and self-acceptance

Successful individuals know they have strengths and weaknesses, and they emphasize their strong talents and abilities. At the same time, they do not see their weak points as major stumbling blocks or evidence of their inability to prevail. Instead, they acknowledge that every person has highs and lows and realize that success comes from emphasizing strengths and minimizing the effects of their less developed skills.


Proactive (as opposed to reactive) individuals believe in their capacity to achieve, they look for opportunities to grow, and they take decisive steps to make their goals and dreams a reality. They do not blame others for their problems; instead they take responsibility for their own part in their situation and realize they can change their circumstances with their own actions.


Successful people see their setbacks or failures as temporary, not as life-defining. They don’t stop believing in their goals. When they encounter setbacks, they reevaluate. They make adjustments if necessary, but they do not give up.

Goal setting

People who are successful have learned how to set realistic, achievable goals. They have developed the capacity to set long-term goals and to break these long-term goals into bite-size pieces that represent action steps they can take to achieve their goal. They are flexible, being open to unexpected opportunities, yet they don’t lose site of their overall goal.

Use of effective support systems

Both successful and unsuccessful individuals have support systems; however, the successful individuals have learned to seek support when they need it, rather than waiting passively for help to be offered. Further, they have learned to seek support from individuals who will give them guidance to achieve their goals, rather than weaken their chances of success.

Strong emotional coping strategies

Those who develop ways to reduce stress, feelings of failure, isolation, and the desire to quit, find the internal resources to persist until they succeed. Successful individuals have learned to identify situations that can trigger negative reactions, they can monitor their internal reactions to sense when negative responses are present, and they have a set of strategies to reduce these negative reactions so they can keep on track.

Taking specific action increases the likelihood of succeeding in college

Students need to be aware of specific action steps they should take to increase the probability they will be admitted to and graduate from the college of their choice.

Ideally, parents and children should begin to take specific action steps by the time the student reaches 8th grade. For the student, this involves taking the most challenging classes available, while maintaining strong grades and a great attitude toward academics. Completing extra or optional assignments in classes to stretch his or her knowledge, and pursuing activities about which the student is passionate such as sports, artistic, and/or volunteer experiences builds the self-confidence, proactive mindset and time management skills that characterize highly successful students.

Parents should encourage their child to learn from successful adults who are rich sources of information about the nature of their careers, the training they completed, and the strategies they use to be successful. Family friends, teachers, coaches, and neighbors are valuable allies to a student who is eager to learn about the kinds of opportunities available to them as adults.

Students should explore the world of work through paid jobs, internships, and volunteering. They will learn about the working conditions of specific jobs, develop the perseverance needed to commit to a challenging endeavor, and learn valuable interpersonal skills such as cooperation and functioning within an environment that requires meeting high expectations.

It is necessary for students to take a proactive role in their school careers. They should learn how to communicate their strengths and needs to adults. They should attend their IEP meetings and advocate on their own behalf.

Only a small percentage of students with special learning needs attend college, but parents have the opportunity to insure that their child is one of the successful ones. The most valuable step parents can take is to mentor their child to believe in their intelligence and talents and know in their heart they can meet the challenge of obtaining a college education. This belief supports the effective action steps that parents and students take throughout their school career to ensure a college diploma.

Dr. Kari Miller is a certified educational therapist and director of Miller Educational Excellence. She mentors special needs students to believe in their own success, achieve in school, and change their lives. She can be reached at Visit her website to learn more about educational therapy for special needs children.


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