This year, approximately 80 percent of high school students will graduate. However, only 60 percent of children with special needs will get their diploma. And, this is an increase from previous years according to the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, stats provided by Grad Nation indicate that almost 90 percent of the students with disabilities were capable of completing the requirements needed to graduate. Of course, the rates for graduation varied significantly from one state to the next because some states required fewer credit requirements or lowered their performance criteria for special needs children.

So what happens when a student with a mental health disorder and/or learning disability achieves their high school diploma? A lot of celebrating – and deservedly so! Hopefully, by the time a student has reached this milestone a continuing plan of education and/or opportunity has been made. This will give a student the momentum to keep moving forward to the next milestone, whether it’s a vocational or trade school, college or university, or joining the workforce.

While all graduates suffer from a certain amount of anxiety and trepidation following graduation, students with learning or emotional disabilities often have those fears magnified a gazillion times. And, so do their parents. The “what-ifs” and fears of the unknown expand exponentially when staring at a fuzzy outline called the future.

For example, when a student with specific issues decides to continue their education, sometimes they will opt out of disclosing a disorder or disability so as not to appear “different.” However, this is a disservice to not only the student, but the instructors as well. One instructor recently scolded a parent in frustration by asking the mother, “How can I help your child succeed if I don’t know what the issues are? We just wasted a whole semester going around in circles!” Now the student will take the course over again – but this time with study accommodations.

Most schools of higher learning are equipped to make substantial accommodations for students with physical and/or mental disabilities. Just as in high school, there are laws and regulations that will apply such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and American Disabilities Act (ADA). Get acquainted with the school’s guidance department so they can best help your student achieve success.

If a student with physical or emotional disabilities decides to go into the workforce, things like developing a resume or filling out a job application can be daunting. However, some companies have special work programs to help a special needs individual meet their occupational goals. Depending on their disability, some students may be eligible for a vocational rehabilitation program. Services and training may also be offer through your community, county or state. Employment services are another option because they provide assessment tests and interview tips.

Working with a qualified mental health professional can be very helpful when a young person is considering what to do with their future. Together, a plan of action can be created that will help develop achievable goals with a positive outlook.

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