Rion Holcombe, a young man with Down syndrome, is going to COLLEGE!

Rion Holcome, a young man with Down syndrome, is going to college.  Yup got his letter of acceptance and everything. You know, this really shouldn’t be a news worthy item.  It should be such an every day occurrence that people wonder WHY it’s blogged about or made such a big deal of.

Rion has been accepted into a program at Clemson University called LIFE, which is designed for students with “intellectual disabilities who desire a post-secondary experience on a college campus.”

My Curly Girly is at BYU trying to set up the same sort of experience for kids with intellectual disabilities there.  McCall is the FIRST person from the special needs program to be hold a seat on BYU’s student council.  When she came up with this idea, she hit about a zillion road blocks.  The most offensive being that BYU only accepts the best of the best.  ahem.

But my girl with the curly locks refused to let the issue dropped and found a few supporters in higher places than the nay sayers.

Don’t tell ME prayers aren’t answered.

It’s time for the world to acknowledge the potential of those with intellectual disabilities and recognize while not all of our roads are the same, each should carry the same respect.

Besides, doesn’t the tuition money of a person with intellectual disabilities spend just the same as anyone else’s.

Just sayin’.

Below is the video of Rion reading his acceptance letter.

Congrats, Rion!


About Tammy and Parker

Special Needs Blogger, and homeschooling Mom, heavily involved in advocacy for all kids with special needs in Utah.


  1. Errrrr, college is meant to be a place for folks who are academically inclined and wish to obtain particular technical skills/qualifications — and thus really, truly not an appropriate venue for folks who are cognitively delayed (or, heck, non-cognitively delayed people who don’t happen to be interested in book-based learning). It strikes me as very, very patronizing to admit a student who does not meet the minimum academic requirements.

    I’m all for activities that encourage diversity, bring those with special needs into contact with those without and that there are HUGE advantages for neurotypical folks who take the time to engage with those with special needs. But giving a cognitively delayed kid admission to a university where they aren’t capable of engaging with the curriculum (with accommodations, as per the ADA) isn’t fair to that kid — or to the kid who DOES meet the academic requirements and is denied a place as a result.

    There are all kinds of transition programs for folks with intellectual disabilities — Job Corps, supervised workshop-style apprenticeships and a pretty fabulous 1:1 support program through the public schools in New Jersey (which are required to provide educational serves for the disabled until age 22). Any number of corporations have employment programs for those with cognitive disabilities. My awesome niece, who is 25 and just happens to have DS, has had a job she loves at a Walgreens distribution center in South Carolina. Several of her friends (who also have intellectual disabilities and participated in transition programs via the public schools in their hometown) found jobs they really seem to enjoy (and have held for years!) at COSTCO. There are any number of ways for folks with special needs (specifically those with intellectual disabilities) to continue their educations and find meaningful employment — and giving them a faux-college experience isn’t among them!

    • Dee, I think perhaps you didn’t understand the post. I’m not suggesting a person with intellectual disabilities be given a ‘faux-college experience.’ I’m suggesting more colleges create programs for those who are able and desire to further their education. What’s ‘faux’ about that?

      I’m talking about there being more opportunities for kids like Parker when they age out of the school system. New Jersey may have awesome opportunities, Utah…..not so much.

      “But giving a cognitively delayed kid admission to a university where they aren’t capable of engaging with the curriculum (with accommodations, as per the ADA) isn’t fair to that kid — or to the kid who DOES meet the academic requirements and is denied a place as a result.”

      I’m talking about colleges creating curriculum especially for those with intellectual delays. No kid meeting the academic requirements would be denied a place as a result.

      I hope this helps explain the meaning behind my post.

      • The purpose of college is to further one’s education with advanced, post-secondary learning — and, if completed to the standard set by whoever accredits colleges here in the US, to be awarded a degree signifying they have mastered tertiary-level skills. A degree is awarded based purely on academic achievement, not effort, not the valuable experiences others can gain from simply being in their presence. A university is NOT a place for a person with an intellectual disability who cannot meet the academic requirements. Heck, only about 30% of adults in this country have a college degree — that means 70% of the adult aemerican population, the majority of which do not have any sort of disabily that interferes with their cognitive abilities, do not have a college degree. They aren’t “discriminated against” by not gaining admission to or completing the coursework required for a collee degree — thus neither is a lovely young man with DS.

        The young man with DS who got into “college” likely did not meet the minimum academic standards, nor will he be able to complete actual college-level work — thus he would have a faux-college experience, as he is unable to meaningfully participate in academics. Period.

        You want to put a life-skills program for intellectually disabled (aka cannot meet minimum admission requirements) on a college campus? Knock yourself out. Just don’t call it “getting into college like everybody else” because it isn’t. A kid with an intellectual disability who cannot meet academic college requirements like everybody else has lots of opportunities to further their education — but a degree-granting post-secondary institution is not the appropriate place to do so.

        (And if I’m wrong, if the kid with DS met the college admission rwquirmebts and will be earning a degree, then he 100% deserves to celebrate his college admission!)

        • Geez, Dee. Why the anger? You did read the entire post and click on the LIFE link that takes you to the program at Clemson for those with intellectual delays, right?

          “Rion has been accepted into a program at Clemson University called LIFE, which is designed for students with “intellectual disabilities who desire a post-secondary experience on a college campus.”

          Clemson is offering programs for both typical and kids with special needs. NOT the same program. Two different ones. The LIFE program only accepts a few kids at a time and I’d be willing to be that Rion did have to meet some sort of entrance requirements set within the bounds of having an intellectual disability.

          I see NOTHING wrong with a but a degree-granting post-secondary institution also offering programs for kids with intellectual disabilities. Not the same programs. Different programs.

          And, btw, I’ll call it whatever I choose, thankyouverymuch. However the title came from the original article I linked to.

          I bet you’re a real support for kids with Ds being in typical classrooms too, huh?

          • Kids with DS in regular classrooms all the way through high school? They are 100% entitled to be there, along with every single other kid with or without a disability. There are laws in place to ensure this.

  2. Casey Jones says:


    I will give you the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe that you just do not understand the whole point of the Life program at Clemson. The young man above will not leave Clemson with a degree but he, and others in the program, will leave Clemson better prepared to be more independent and able to function in society with less, if any, external support.

    In the past, it was common for adults with Down’s to be institutionalized. I know from personal experience because I had a step brother with Down’s and my parents were unable to provide the required home care. Perhaps you would prefer that your tax dollars go to support these institutions?

    By the way, I am darn proud of my university for having the foresight to create such a program.

    Casey Jones
    Clemson University, Class of 1972

  3. College professor says:

    I don’t know if there is any point in arguing with the commenter named Dee–as she obviously is miserably miseducated, misguided, and misinformed. Yes, people with intellectual disabilities can legally attend BOTH 2 and 4 year colleges. Yes, some colleges (like this one from the article) offer parallel programs—and yes, most of these programs include attending typical classes and “support” classes. And since when is college only based upon academics and grades? I am a college professor, and BELIEVE me—we grade on effort as well as academics. I’ve had a students who can get good grades, but never show up for class or field—and guess what???? Sometimes THEY FAIL–you know why—cause EFFORT is part of their grade for these courses.

    But SO WHAT if these students with intellectual disabilities are on a typical college campus, where all of their typical peers are attending? What is it to you? Does it hurt you in some way? Research has shown for 2 decades now that educating those with intellectual disabilities benefits BOTH the students with disabilities and those who are typically developing. Research shows that if those with intellectual disabilities are educated and learn in similar environments, they reach higher levels of ability (for the most part), and have much improved long term outcomes over all in life.

    But–you know—perhaps it would be better to listen to HATERS like you who just want to stay small minded and put up walls for people rather than helping them tear them down. I’ve worked with students with significant disabilities in my typical classess—and I’ve seen them succeed. Does that mean that all of them will be obtaining a full blown degree? Perhaps not–but as you point out–(although your statistics are wrong), not all students (many) who go to college actually graduate, of the “typically developing population”. But you know, in this country where we embrace a liberal arts education as well as technical trades, perhaps on college campuses we even have room for those who learn differently, and are different? Although–maybe you think we should go back to the ages when only white men could legally go to college? People used to say ALL SORTS of “different” people “couldn’t do”—yet they have proven OVER AND OVER again that they can.

    So–I would suggest you go to and get yourself educated (DEE) before you fill up someone’s comments section with prejudiced, small minded thinking. And, if you are college educated, perhaps you need to go back now, and obtain a more OPEN MINDED education before commenting on here again!!!!!

    Yours truly–a college professor (who has studied and researched the lives of adults with intellectual disabilities for years–and pays attention to what they can do–instead of focusing on the cannot do’s–and putting up walls where there should not be ANY!!!)

  4. College professor says:

    P.S. Just so you know, Dee, sheltered workshops are an idea from the 1970’s–and are very much not appropriate. Research has shown that those with intellectual disabilities (such as this young man) who have opportunities to obtain REAL WORLD job training, and REAL WORLD job opportunities, do better in the long run, while those in sheltered workshops often make limited to no progress, have large increases in inappropriate behaviors (often cause their BORED and unfulfilled), and that they are paid NOTHING (basically pennies)–or in other words, are glorified slaves to a “sheltered workshop” system. I have seen even those with very significant physical and intellectual disabilities work in REAL jobs, and they thrive. So–join the 21st century!!!

    • My niece (who has DS) and a number of her friends (whom I’ve known for years and see a couple of times a year) participated in post-high school, publically-funded transition programs and hold jobs that pay at least minimum wage. K genuinely loves the job she’s got (and held for years!) at Walgreens and makes quite a bit more than minimum wage. Everything I’ve read (and heard firsthand from K/friends) indicates that both chains (Walgreens, Costco) treat their employees with disabilities fairly – they earn minimum wage or more, are treated with respect and just like non-disabled employees, etc.

      My degree is in electrical engineering, so pretty much all of my classes had a 100% final option (ie your grade was determined by whatever was set out in the syllabus OR the grade on your final exam, whichever was higher. Thus my college experience was that the final – not labs, problems or problem sets or effort, determined my grade).

      I will take a look at the links you suggest – I admit I was unaware of the data suggesting the benefits of sending intellectually disabled students to college via parallel programs of study.

  5. College professor says:

    (Comment in response to Dee)–Thank you for responding in a more open-minded manner. I’m impressed that you’re willing to go do research and become more educated. Yes–there are post-high programs like the one your niece completed which are very beneficial as well—and many of these programs (like the Clemson one) offers very similar options to the one you described for your niece. The one difference? The students get to attend and complete their work on a college campus, with other freshman and sophomores who are typically developing. They get to work on and off campus with their peers; they get to go to some classes with their peers; they get to join on campus clubs, with their peers. One of the biggest issues with post high programs is not that they aren’t successful—-but that students with disabilities are often segregated away from peers–even though the plan is to then help them gain employment with their typically developing peers (and integrated work situation, like we all work in every day–as 1/5 people in this country have a disability that can qualify for protection from discrimination under ADA). The employers you mentioned are VERY good and supportive. I know for a fact that Walgreens started their program because one of their vice-presidents has a son with autism, and he wanted to expand his son’s employment options. I’m very supportive of all positive, well organized post-high programs—especially if they lead to more independent lives, an inclusive society, and those with disabilities being able to interact with whom they chose to interact with, instead of whom they’re forced to interact with (like in a sheltered setting). Yes, some young adults will always need supports, but community based supports have been shown for years via research to be far more beneficial for even those with the highest degree of support needs, than segregated settings. The greatest thing to me about this video about Rion is his pure excitement. It’s just like watching ANY future freshman his age, open their acceptance letter. And that is exactly how life should be!!!! So thank you for becoming more open minded! It is very much appreciated!

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