5 Tips for Going to College When You Have SMA

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by Kevin Schaefer |

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Just as it’s possible for SMA individuals to go to public and private school when they’re growing up, a post-secondary education is also perfectly feasible. Yet just like any aspect of life with SMA, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome when it comes to going to college. If you or your child is interested in pursuing higher education but worried about the limitations of having SMA, here are some tips for how to work around these concerns.

1. Decide whether to live on campus or commute.
The first step in the process is determining living arrangements: do you want to live on or near campus or commute from home? If you decide to live on campus, there are a couple options for ensuring that you receive proper care and accommodations. You can either hire your own caregivers or have several friends help you out; or you can look to see what kind of nursing assistance, if any, the university you’re attending provides. Some don’t have any, while a handful in the U.S. do have suitable arrangements. It all depends on what you’re most comfortable with and what kind of resources you have. Do some research first and then decide what your best option is.

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2. Find a disability services office on campus.
One of the biggest things that will help you throughout college is a strong disability services department. Universities are required by law to provide students with disabilities reasonable accommodations in the classroom. This can include things like providing note-takers and extended time on tests. Meet with this department’s representatives before starting classes, or even while you’re still in the college search process. A good disability services office will be one of the most helpful resources you’ll have throughout your college career.

3. Communicate with your professors ahead of time.
Any college student is advised to build relationships with their professors, but this advice is especially important for students with SMA and other disabilities. The more your professors know about you, your needs and your accommodations, the more they will be able to help you. Especially as you get further into your major, communicating with your professors on a regular basis can help you plan for what you’ll do after college and help you acquire internships while you’re still in school. Meet with your professors before the start of each semester, as this will help you determine what specific accommodations you need in each class.

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4. Get involved in campus life.
Just like any college student, you need to do more than just go to class in order to get the full college experience. There are hundreds of campus organizations to choose from, and once you figure out which ones you like, it’s a good idea to join one or two and meet new people who have the same interests as you. For SMA individuals, joining a student organization can also lead to meeting potential caregivers, or at least friends who will help you out and grab lunch and dinner with you. Being engaged in campus life, even if you commute from home, will help increase your motivation and provide you with countless social opportunities.

5. Don’t overload yourself and make time in your schedule for breaks.
As you get caught up in all the adrenaline of campus life and piles of coursework, it’s easy for your schedule to become too hectic. Always remember that your mental, physical and emotional health take priority over your schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Your SMA body will tell you when it’s had enough, and it’s important that you don’t push yourself beyond your limits. Spread out your class schedule so that you have time for breaks; try not to take more than 15 hours per semester and don’t join too many student organizations; balance in-person classes with some online ones; and visit your university’s student health center if you’re struggling with fatigue or something related to your mental health. You can take measures to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed, and take advantage of the resources available to you.

For another helpful perspective on going to college with a disability, read this article by disability rights activist Emily Ladau.

MORE: Four tips for acquiring caregivers

SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.