Navigating the Hidden Curriculum of Higher Education for Postsecondary Students With Intellectual Disabilities

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Abstract

Students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD) increasingly pursue postsecondary education (PSE). Navigating the hidden curriculum—including meeting prerequisites for PSE and employment, using support systems and community transportation, and carrying out adulthood expectations—is an area of challenge. This exploratory case study examined experiences of students with IDD attending a PSE program and stakeholder perspectives. Thirty-two participants (10 students with IDD, 5 parents or guardians, 4 college administrators, 8 college instructors, 4 occupational therapists, and a transition specialist) were interviewed. Conventional content analysis revealed navigating the hidden curriculum as a key theme and three subthemes: (1) adult-based system navigation, (2) persisting challenges with adaptive behaviors, and (3) disability awareness and disclosure. Limited awareness of disability and supports and services needed for a successful PSE outcome were contributing factors. Occupational therapists have the skills to support students with IDD in skill acquisition to successfully transition to and navigate PSE and the hidden curriculum.

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