Yes, My Son With Down Syndrome Can Go to College
I can see the headline now: “Twin Brothers Graduate Side-by-Side, Accepted at the Same College.” I can see my precious boys, now men, stepping onto the platform hand-in-hand, receiving their diplomas together. The year is 2031, and it’s the culmination of years of hard work, as well as the beginning of years of hard work to come.
But why is this even news, you ask. After all, twins graduate side-by-side every spring.
What if I told you my twin boys are so unique that the odds of recreating another birth like them is 14 in a million! I know, I know… I should play the lottery.
But this alone isn’t even newsworthy.
The real headliner here is that one boy is neurotypical, while the other has Down syndrome. And the truth is, few people expect much out of the latter. Except me!
My twin boys will begin kindergarten in a year, and I’m already plotting how to send them to college. Of course, like most parents, my husband and I have done the dutiful task of setting up a 529 College Savings plan for my our typical son and daughter.
But doing the same for Troy, who has Down syndrome, would put his future SSI Medicaid benefits at risk. Luckily for Troy, the Achieve a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was just passed in 2014, and now he can save for college too without losing much-needed government assistance. Read more about that here.
So now to investigate college programs. I know, we’re 14 years out…What can I say? I’m a bit of an obsessive planner. I can’t help it. But my investigation into colleges for my son amazed me!
Did you know there are over 260 college options for Troy, and other people with intellectual disabilities? And he can receive Pell grants, work study money, and scholarships to help pay the tuition.
The evolution to better higher education opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities really took off with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. But keep your eyes and ears peeled (and your legislator on speed dial), because the act is supposed to be reauthorized again this year. We can’t go backwards.
On closer look, I noticed that these college programs are not all created equal. They range from Syracruse’s InclusiveU Program, which boasts a four-year certification program where students take the same exact classes as their neurotypical peers and live with those peers, to community college programs where students are completely segregated and only learn life skills.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these college programs fall into the latter category. Now, I’m not complaining. At least higher education, any higher education, exists for my son. But I’m not going to fight for 13 years for my son to be included with his typical twin brother in primary and secondary education just to turn around and fight again in higher education.
We need to be advocating for more programs like InclusiveU, and we need the Higher Education Opportunity Act passed with more, not less funds for inclusive higher education. My hope is by the time Troy and Hunter graduate high school in 2031, most higher education programs will be fully inclusive and lead to competitive paying jobs.
Visit thinkcollege.net to find out which college programs are in your state, and start advocating for full inclusion.
You can join our journey of inclusion and advocacy at inclusionevolution.com.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.