Is Your Special Ed Teen Speaking the Right Language for College Admission?

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When we think of our teenagers going to college, excitement and anxiousness sets in. We have grand plans for their future. But if you have a teenager with special needs who is integrated into a regular classroom, he or she will need to meet the same minimum course requirements as anyone else applying for college admission.

Therefore, when parents or students learn about the two-credit foreign language requirement, some may want to pack up and run as far away from college as possible. However, if your child plans to attend any of the 17 UNC system colleges or choose a degree program, which requires one, he needs to complete the foreign language requirement.

Some teenagers who learn differently have a difficult time mastering another world language. An article published in LD Online by Leonore Ganschow and Elke Schneider (2006), discussed the reasons why students with learning disabilities require extra effort and interventions for successful completion of foreign languages. Many exceptional students already have neurological challenges and require additional assistance with reading and writing in the standard core curriculum. These challenges make learning another language especially difficult.

Often, services listed in a student’s individual education plan will not apply in a second language class. For example, there is the “speech” component to the language curriculum. A special education student would not be able to use the “read aloud” accommodation since it offers an unfair advantage. While these students are eligible for special services, they are essentially on their own in a foreign language class. So, if you can’t speak the second language you are studying, there isn’t a very good chance you will pass the class.

A Different Approach

As an alternative, and according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, American Sign Language is recognized as a modern, visual language, and meets minimum admissions requirements for the foreign language credit to all the UNC system colleges and universities. Since 2007, ASL has been available to all NC students. Check with your local school system to find out if it offers access to this class, since ASL is not taught in most N.C. high schools. “North Carolina put ASL into policy, but there are barriers to accessibility,” says Audrey Garvin, director of the N.C. School for the Deaf in Morganton. Garvin adds that barriers often include hiring qualified teachers, costs and ASL certification.

If ASL isn’t offered at your child’s high school, check with your child’s case manager or the district coordinator to find out where your student may obtain the class for credit. Some schools in Pitt, Durham and Wake Counties offer ASL, but you most likely will have to ask for it. Your local high school may not offer it directly, although there may be a satellite classroom or school nearby that does.

According to Ginny Moorefield, a nationally certified interpreter and ASL teacher at East Wake Academy in Zebulon, “the law was written with quality over quantity in mind.”

Repeat Problem

Let’s say your student gains acceptance into her college of choice. She is not out of the “world language woods” yet because she will most likely run into the same roadblocks trying to earn ASL credits in college. Some UNC schools teach it, but students may not earn foreign language credits in exchange for taking it.

Once enrolled, your student has a couple of options. The first and easiest would be to major in a degree program that doesn’t require a foreign language at all. But there are other options. For example, UNC Greensboro teaches ASL and offers a Modified Foreign Language Program in Spanish to students who qualify. This class is taught at a much slower pace and has a lower student-teacher ratio. It may be a good idea to ask about this option at other colleges as well during the interviewing process.

As parents and educators, we can help eliminate the roadblocks that hinder our children from making a successful transition from high school to college. The challenge of taking a world language, whether in high school or college, should not be the reason your student stays off a university campus. Keep these alternatives in mind and start planning early in the process.


C.C. Malloy resides in Wake Forest as a freelance writer and an advocate for special needs children and teenagers.  To post questions about this article or gain support for your teenager’s transition to college, please visit her blog at

Categories: College Planning, Early Education, Education, Sk Education