Parenting a college-bound teen is a complex transition, and perhaps even more so if your child has a disability.

Up till now, your child has likely had a lot of support services and has an individualized education program (IEP). But at the college level, those specialized programs are not available, and your teen will have to learn to self-advocate. For you, it may be an adjustment to watch your student take the lead as they transition to college. But here are some things you can do to support your child and get them ready — whether they commute or live on campus.

Understand the Law

The laws protecting students in K-12 and those protecting students in college are different, says Adam Kosakowski, director of student accessibility services at Clark University. “In K-12, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) promises a free and appropriate education where classes and their material can be changed to fit the needs of the student.” But for college the main focus of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is on access to the same education as other students, he explains. “The coursework is not altered. All students are expected to do the same quality and quantity of work.”

The good news is that most colleges offer support services, from academic assistance like tutoring to physical accommodations, to help students with disabilities transition successfully.

Help Your Teen Select the Right School

Campus visits can help students with physical disabilities get a sense for how challenging it might be to navigate their way around. Are all academic buildings, student centers and dorms handicapped accessible? Are roads and walkways well-paved and smooth? These are the sorts of things that an in-person visit will help reveal.

You and your teen should also connect with the college’s disability support services office and ask about accommodations for the student’s specific disability. Inquire as to whether there are other students on campus with the same disabilities, and find out if there are peer support groups for students with disabilities.

To help your teens become more self-sufficient, have them start making independent decisions while they’re still in high school.

Here are some additional questions Kosakowski suggests:

  • What is accessibility awareness like on campus?
  • Do professors work well with students with disabilities on campus? How well do they work with the disability services office?
  • I have certain accommodations in high school — are those available at this college?

Have your teen start practicing self-advocacy

“Depending on the resources available at the college, students will need to be open to seeking and using them. These services will not be loaded automatically into their course schedule as they are in high school,” says Dr. Andrea M. Brode, dean of student success at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, the first college accredited to award bachelor’s degrees primarily to students with learning differences.

To help your teens become more self-sufficient, have them start making independent decisions while they’re still in high school, says Kosakowski. “If you want them to succeed after high school, you’ll have to start taking baby steps backward, one by one.”

Identify the Accommodations That Are Most Helpful

Kosakowski says there are four basic accommodation types at Clark University, but his team is always willing to create a new accommodation to give an individual student the access they need and deserve. “For testing, there might be time extension on all exams and quizzes and a reduced distraction testing environment. For note taking, there is approval to audio record lectures and/or having a classmate take notes to supplement your own.” They also provide reduced course loads and early registration, while, for housing, “there are singles due to a disability-related need and a private bathroom,” he adds.

Each school may have a different process, says Brode, so it’s up to you to find out what type of documentation is needed (if any) to obtain accommodations. It might just be bringing a copy of the IEP or 504 plan you used in high school, a detailed letter from a licensed medical professional or the school might use its own evaluation process.

Find Ways to Cope With Your Own Transition

Seek out parent support groups through the college. Some have informal social media group pages where parents can connect and share information and concerns.

Set up a regular communication schedule with your teen that you both feel comfortable with. When there are calls several times a day, it prolongs dependency, says Brode.

“Although it feels unnatural at first, most parents learn that there is life after fledglings have left the nest,” says Brode. “The separation process is usually gradual, and it is natural. Good parenting will lead to an independent, productive member of the world community.”