View Resource

Expectations of Families with Young Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for Postsecondary Education

by Dana Yarbrough, Elizabeth E. Getzel, and Joan Kester

Available formats:    PDF


It has long been recognized that high parental expectations lead to high academic achievement by their children. Parental expectations have also been found as a strong predictor of students planning for college (Hossler & Stage, 1992). While that may hold true for students without disabilities, there is limited research about family expectations for the future engagement of transition-aged youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in postsecondary education (PSE).

The passage in 2008 of the Higher Education Opportunity Act provided increased access for students with I/DD to two and four year college campuses. Even with the recognition that parental expectations for the future help shape the academic engagement of youth with disabilities and the increasing expectations that young people with I/DD can and should be given the choice to participate in some type of college programming, setting college as a goal in special education planning meetings is still relatively recent (Grigal & Hart, 2012). Only a small number of studies have focused specifically on the perspectives of families of students with I/DD (Martinez, Conroy & Cerreto, 2012; Griffin, McMillan & Hodapp, 2012; Wagner, Newman, Cerreto & Levine, 2005; Newman, 2005; Chambers, Hughes & Carter, 2004; Cooney, 2002; Kraemer & Blacher, 2001; and Masino & Hodapp, 1996). While each study examined some facet of transition-aged youth with I/DD, parental expectations, and PSE, none linked all three domains:

Martinez, Conroy, & Cerreto used a pool of Arc membership to examine parents’ means of accessing information to achieve their desired and expected post-school goals for their young adults. Two of eight survey domains related directly to PSE, but not necessarily to college (PSE questions also related to vocational preparation and training). A small percentage of their survey respondents (<25%) wanted or expected their child to enroll or participate in college – the majority (>60%) wanted or expected segregated coursework or vocational training for their child.

A study by Griffin, McMillan & Hodapp researched family perceptions of transition planning, including barriers families encountered in learning about PSE. Among the many findings from this pool of 108 families of students with ID, inadequate transition planning, a general lack of information and guidance, school and staff

not helping families to understand options, and conflicting advice from agency staff were the most prevalent findings.

Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine culled the National Longitudinal Transition Study for barriers youth with disabilities faced as they made the transition to adulthood. They identified in their findings the importance of PSE for successful adult outcomes and the need for careful transition planning to ensure success.

In an examination of the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2 data for evidence that family expectations for PSE shapes the positive academic engagement and achievement of youth with disabilities, Newman found that parents are less confident that their child will attend and graduate college – about three of five youth with disabilities were expected to further their education after high school.

Chambers, Hughes & Carter researched parent perceptions regarding employment, independent living, PSE, social relationships, and recreation as their children prepared to exit high school. Most of the eight families participating in this study thought that their child (even though they thought college was an important post-school outcome) would enter vocational training or not participate in PSE at all rather than go to college.

Research by Cooney looked at the transition experience of nine youth with ID and their families during their last year of high school. While parents hoped that their child’s abilities would allow them to achieve fulfilling adult lives, the author found that families in this study were most concerned about the unfamiliar transition process and procedures which ultimately impacted the quality of their child’s transition plan. PSE was not addressed in this study.

Kraemer & Blacher wanted to know the aspirations parents had for their sons and daughters with ID once they exited the school system. The primary concern expressed by families in this study was determining what their child would do during the day after high school ended. PSE was not included as a survey domain.

Another study, conducted by Masino & Hodapp, used the National Education Longitudinal Study data to examine school performance of youth with sensory and orthopedic impairments and parent education levels for possible correlations of predicting parental expectations for college. They only found slightly higher parental expectations for this subgroup of students.

The paucity of research linking families of young adults with ID and parental expectations for PSE was the impetus for a small study to further delve into the personal perspectives of parents of students with I/DD who were accepted into ACE-IT in College; a fully inclusive, supported education transition program at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Specifically, the purpose of this study was to explore how parental expectations for their son or daughter with I/DD grew; what factors contributed to this experience; and what advice these parents would have for educators, community agency personnel, college administrators, and for other parents.

Established at VCU in 2000 to support students with learning disabilities, Academic & Career Exploration: Individualized Techniques (ACE-IT) has successfully used a supported education approach to provide individualized services to students with traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injuries, and other neurological disabilities. In October 2010, ACE-IT was modified (and renamed to add ‘in College’) for students with I/DD to participate at VCU in a 21 credit, 30 month certificate program. Participants in ACE-IT in College are 18-26 years old; with Intellectual Disabilities, Autism, or Traumatic Brain Injury; and who graduated or are expected to graduate from high school with a Virginia Modified or Special Diploma. Entering VCU as a ‘special status student;’ the same status for any non-degree seeking student, ACE-IT in College participants are fully included in all academic and social aspects of the university with the support of VCU undergraduate students acting as educational coaches and peer mentors.

(For the full document, click the PDF version above)