Exploring parents’ experiences of postsecondary education for their children with disabilities
Streit, Cara Gorham
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This study explored the expectations and experiences of parents whose adult children graduated from a comprehensive college-based postsecondary education program for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Seventeen parents of graduates from the Lesley University Threshold Program in Cambridge, MA were interviewed in the style of narrative inquiry. Subjects were asked to describe their expectations for their sons’ and daughters’ futures as they grew up, the role of a college program in their children’s development and in the evolution of their own expectations, their hopes and concerns for the future, and their opinions of college inclusion and how greater inclusion might have impacted their sons and daughters. Interview subjects were found to share common goals for their children: independence and fulfillment in life. While they faced great uncertainty about the future when their children were young, they wanted to help them achieve as much independence and fulfillment as possible, and expected that postsecondary education would help them progress toward these ends. Parents wanted their children to have a college experience that felt authentic, while also providing comprehensive and intensive supports and specialized skill development. Parents reported that their children’s postsecondary experiences surpassed their expectations. They saw growth in their sons and daughters in the areas of independent living, vocational skills, and social skills, as well as advances in self-esteem, positive decision making, and problem-solving. While parents emphasized the value of life skills, friendships, and employment over inclusion at the university, every subject also stated that greater integration with undergraduates, facilitated by staff and peer mentors, should have been available to Threshold students, regardless of whether they thought their own son or daughter would have benefited. Implications for practitioners and research are discussed, with an emphasis on the study’s relevance to current trends in the field of inclusive higher education.