According to the NCLD, one in five children have learning disabilities such as dyslexia or ADHD that hinder their executive functioning abilities and academic progress. As these children age, or with proper support systems, many believe that they simply will “grow out” of these problems. The truth, however, is that children with disabilities grow into adults with disabilities- and people who still need support systems. College and other post secondary education is growing in importance for successful career building, which poses an extra hurdle for adult students with disabilities and learning challenges. 

Fortunately, there are resources available to help students of all abilities achieve their goals. I spoke with Angel Villegas, lead academic coach from the NorthBridge College Success Program, to better understand how these resources can aid students. NorthBridge is a nonprofit that offers tutoring and life coaching services for post-secondary students with learning disabilities. They support a range of disabilities as well as students all throughout Phoenix, including GCC students. 

I asked Angel to expand on exactly how he supports his students during coaching sessions; the main thing that he feels is important is organization. Many of Angel’s students struggle with executive functioning, such as interpreting instructions and prioritization, rather than the details of work. He states that “What I do is provide that middle point of implicit and explicit expectations by explaining them and helping them organize their workload.”

When asked to weigh in on what other available resources there are for post-secondary students with disabilities, Angel pointed to each school’s internal disability resource center as well as several online resources. He finds that “While we all have seen the links at the end of a syllabus that explains where the school’s disability resource center is, people don’t usually seek them out unless they’re already part of the system.” Furthermore, the DRS centers can provide information about other supportive resources such as Grammarly (useful in proofreading), Photomath (can check math equations), and Vitalsource (text-to-speech functionality for textbooks).

Regarding better ways schools can support students with disabilities, Angel had quite a number of insights. Many students with disabilities have supports at the high school level, but he argues that these supports only serve to help them through high school and do not adequately prepare them for college. “Instead, they should also provide a service or some mock courses where they can explain, in explicit terms, how different the workload is.” Angel also thinks that university course organization needs to be more standardized; he states that “this does not mean that every course should be taught the same way, but instead that every course should have the same key organizational features,” and cites syllabus standardizations and course schedules as a potential avenue for improvement. Lastly, he thinks that all students should be required to take a college readiness course- CPD 150 for the Maricopa Community Colleges students– in order to more clearly understand expectations.

Lastly, Angel and I discussed what he likes most about his job and his favorite ways to support students. When he was in college, he found that his most rewarding assignments were the ones he struggled on collaboratively with peers, and his current position allows him to help people who struggle more than he ever did. He says that “Seeing their drive to succeed be rewarded and unlocking more opportunities for the future is fantastic and I feel like I am making a difference in their lives by helping them reach their goals.” Angel’s closing piece of advice to students is to always communicate with professors; he acknowledges that this can be difficult, especially for students who struggle to reach out, but states that help is there for those who ask for it.

Cover photo by Miguel Angel on Flickr.