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Exceptional Students Experience College

by Mark Claypool, President and CEO, Educational Services of America

"What will happen to my child when I'm gone?" It’s the greatest fear of parents of exceptional children, who frequently believe that independent living is not an option for children with autism spectrum disorders, Asperberger's Syndrome, AD/HD and other learning, behavioral or emotional disorders.

But many parents know that college is possible, degrees are attainable and independent living is achievable. Hundreds of young adults with disabilities are continuing education beyond secondary school, due to their own perseverance. It helps if they have a comprehensive network of support that includes academic and life skills coaching to assist them in managing through their disabilities to successfully experience college living from registration through graduation.

College Living Experience, or CLE, provides these comprehensive services to students with special needs who are pursuing degrees at community and four-year colleges.

Students with solid support systems learn to work, live and accept responsibility and independence – many of the same goals all parents have for their children, regardless of their abilities, and the same aspirations many young people have for themselves. Parents who are considering post-secondary education options for their exceptional children should consider several factors in evaluating and selecting education resources.

Will my child learn to live independently?

  • Many parents spend considerable time and energy organizing the daily life of their exceptional child and it is critical for both parents and young people that college students master the skills of daily living. Students may live in off-campus apartments with a resident advisor, such as in a typical college dorm. They learn to handle tasks of everyday living such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, doing laundry, paying bills and maintaining their apartments.
Will my child develop the necessary academic skills?
  • All students benefit from extra help with academics. Parents will want to know whether their child will participate in daily one-on-one tutoring sessions and supervised study halls to ensure academic progress is being made. Is the tutor another student, or is the tutor an experienced professional with knowledge of the subject at hand? Are study halls offered to ensure my child is spending his or her time learning, and are ongoing review sessions held to make sure my child remains on task, captures good notes, understands the assignments and is prepared for next week’s classes?

Will my child develop the necessary social skills?

  • Social interaction is just as important as academic ability. Do students participate in supervised group outings for movies, bowling and other activities? Will they gain in experiences that help them become comfortable in social settings? Few traditional college programs offer structured social activities with a mentor who knows and understands the special needs of his or her students, but a dedicated program will ensure students’ social activities are educational, empowering and enjoyable.
Who will be my child’s support system?
  • This is the first time many students are away from their parents – and it can be an anxious time for everyone. Parents need reassurance that their child is not alone, even though he or she is learning to live independently. Members of a strong support system include a resident advisor, a mentor, a tutor, a staff psychologist, an academic liaison and others who are on-site.
Are efforts made to keep my child safe?
  • Parents want to be assured that every effort is made to safeguard their child as he or she learns to live independently. Their child's regular interaction with a resident advisor, tutors, mentors and friends helps reassure parents that their child has the support needed to gain in independence in a safe environment. And good, frequent communication between parents and program staff alerts parents to any concerns. In addition, facilities should be attractive and conveniently located near the colleges students attend.
Is financial aid available?
  • Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest provider of federal student loans, offers grants and loans depending on the program parents select.

Mark Claypool is founder, president and chief executive officer of Educational Services of America. Before founding ESA, he was responsible for opening or managing 75 schools throughout the United States. Mark is committed to the idea that all children can succeed if given the right academic environment and the tools to learn. Under his leadership, ESA has become the largest provider of special and alternative education in the country in just seven years.

College Living Experience was founded in 1989 and is a service division of Educational Services of America (ESA), the nation’s leading private provider of special and alternative educational programs. To learn more about College Living Experience, visit or or call College Living Experience at 800-486-5058.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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