Instructional Strategies

Disabilities & Instructional Strategies

Autism Spectrum Disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder 5, Autism Spectrum Disorder is characterized by significant and persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts. Autism Spectrum Disorder without accompanying language and intellectual impairment (previously Asperger’s on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder IV) preserves linguistic and cognitive development. However, difficulties with communication and social adjustment remain a challenge. Many students obtain advanced degrees.

Some Considerations: Some aspects of communication patterns such as poor prosody (e.g., pitch, loudness, tempo and rhythm), circumstantial speech and marked verbosity may interfere with class flow. Structured class participation may be needed so as not to interfere with other student’s course experiences. Many students with autism spectrum disorder also have coexisting conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, depression, nonverbal learning disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Instructional Strategies: The following strategies may be on the Letter of Accommodation to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials and activities. Some are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Have copies of the syllabus ready three to five weeks prior to the beginning of classes so textbooks can be ordered.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note taker from the class.
  • Allow the student to tape record lectures.
  • Provide visual aids, handouts, etc. online.
  • Allow the use of spell check and grammar-assistive devices for in class work, or do not lower grades for in class errors.
  • Provide extended time for quizzes, tests or exams.
  • Provide quiet, separate place to take tests or allow use of the Disability Services testing room.
  • An alternate test format may be necessary.
  • Time for clarification of directions and essential information may be necessary.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students and avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

For more information, see the Autism in College: Students Fact Sheet.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a neurological condition that affects learning and behavior. Students may be easily distracted, impulsive, hyperactive and inconsistent. Some may daydream. Some may have difficulty completing tasks. Some may be disorganized and forgetful. Procrastination, difficulty with time management and mood swings are common. These students are often highly creative, intelligent and intuitive and have the ability to hyper focus.

Some Considerations: While ADHD or ADD is a separate condition from a learning disability, these students use some of the same accommodations and instructional strategies. Common accommodations for students with ADHD or ADD include exam modifications, priority registration and taped lectures.

Instructional Strategies: The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Have copies of the syllabus ready three to five weeks prior to the beginning of classes, so textbooks can be ordered from a national reading service or scanned by Disability Services.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note taker from the class.
  • Allow the student to tape record lectures.
  • Provide visual aids, handouts, etc. online.
  • Provide extended time for quizzes, tests or exams.
  • Provide quiet, separate place to take tests or allow use of the Disability Services testing room.
  • Time for clarification of directions and essential information may be necessary.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students and avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Blind and Visual Impairment
Visual impairments vary greatly. Persons are considered legally blind when visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of corrective lenses. Most people who are legally blind have some vision. Others who have low vision may rely on residual vision with the use of adaptive equipment. Persons who are totally blind may have visual memory. Its strength will depend on the age when vision was lost

Some Considerations: Whatever the degree of visual acuity, students who are visually impaired should be expected to participate fully in classroom activities, such as discussions and group work. To record notes, some use such devices as laptop computers or computerized Braille. They may confront limitations in laboratory classes, field trips and internships. However, with planning and adaptive equipment, their difficulties can be minimized. If a student has a harnessed guide dog, it is working and should not be petted. Common accommodations for students who are blind or visually impaired include note takers, readers, transcribers, document conversions, exam modifications, priority registration and taped lectures.

Instructional Strategies: The following strategies may be on the Letter of Accommodation to ensure the accessibility of course instruction, materials and activities. Some are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Extended test time.
  • Reduced course load.
  • Have copies of the syllabus and reading assignments ready three to five weeks prior to the beginning of classes so documents are available for e-text or Braille conversion.
  • Provide students with visual impairment materials and alternative formats at the same time the materials are given to the rest of the class. The student must request the format type (large print or type). Braille is provided by our office with at least two weeks’ notice.
  • Repeat aloud what is written on the board or presented on overheads and in handouts.
  • Allow students to tape record lectures.
  • Assistance with finding an effective note taker may be needed.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students and avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing
The causes and degrees of hearing loss vary across the deaf and hard of hearing community as do methods of communication and attitudes toward deafness. Given the close relationship between oral language and hearing, students with hearing loss might also have speech impairments. One’s age at the time of hearing loss determines whether the individual is pre-lingual deaf (hearing loss before oral language acquisition) or adventitiously deaf (normal hearing during language acquisition). Those born deaf, or who become deaf as very young children, might have more limited speech development. In general, there are three types of hearing loss.

  • Conductive loss affects the sound conducting paths of the outer and middle ear. The degree of loss can be decreased through the use of a hearing aid or by surgery. Individuals might experience ringing in the ears.
  • Sensor neural loss affects the inner ear and the auditory nerve and can range from mild to profound. People with sensor neural loss might speak loudly, experience greater high-frequency loss, have difficulty distinguishing consonant sounds and have difficulty hearing well in noisy environments.
  • Mixed loss results from both a conductive and sensor neural loss.

Some Considerations: The inability to hear does not affect an individual’s native intelligence or the physical ability to produce sounds. Look directly at the person with a hearing loss during a conversation, even when an interpreter is present. Speak clearly, without shouting. Anyone who has problems being understood should rephrase or use different wording. Writing is also a good way to clarify. Common accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing include sign language or oral interpreters, assistive listening devices, C print, volume control telephones, signaling devices (e.g., a flashing light to alert individuals to a door knock or ringing telephone), priority registration, early syllabus and captions for films and videos. There are several different modes of communications that may be used by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Lip reading
  • Sign language systems such as American Sign Language or ASL (visual language with its own syntax and grammar structure), finger spelling (manual alphabet that forms words) and Pidgin Sign English (combination of ASL and English often combined with speech). Nearly every spoken language has an accompanying sign language.
  • Sign and oral language interpreters who assist individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing with understanding communications and individuals who are hearing with understanding messages communicated by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Sign Language Interpreters use highly developed language and finger spelling skills. Oral interpreters silently form word on their lips for speech reading. Interpreters will also voice when requested. Interpreters will interpret all information in a given situation, including instructor’s comments, class discussion and environmental sounds.

Instructional Strategies: The following strategies may be on the Letter of Accommodation to ensure the accessibility of course instruction, materials and activities. Some are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Circular seating arrangements offer the student the best advantage for seeing all class participants.
  • Reduced course load.
  • When desks are arranged in rows, keep front seats open for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their interpreters.
  • Repeat the comments and questions of other students, especially those from the back rows. Acknowledge who has made the comment, so the student can focus on the speaker.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note taker.
  • Lab assistants may be needed.
  • Face the class while speaking. If an interpreter is present, make sure that the student can see both you and the interpreter.
  • Because visual information is this student’s primary means of receiving information, films, overheads, diagrams and other visual aids are useful instructional tools. Films and videos should be captioned.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students and avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Learning Disabilities
Learning disabilities are neurologically-based conditions that interfere with the acquisition, storage, organization and use of skills and knowledge. They are identified by deficits in academic functioning and in processing memory, auditory, visual and linguistic information. The diagnosis of a learning disability in an adult requires documentation of at least average intellectual functioning along with a deficit in one or more of the following areas:

  • Auditory processing
  • Visual processing
  • Mathematical skills
  • Visual spatial skills
  • Motor skills
  • Executive functioning
  • Spoken and written language skills
  • Reading skills
  • Information processing speed
  • Abstract and general reasoning
  • Memory (long-term, short-term, visual, auditory)

Some Considerations: A learning disability is a permanent disorder affecting how students with average or above average intelligence process incoming information, outgoing information or both. Learning disabilities are often inconsistent. They may be manifested in only one specific academic area such as math or foreign language. Common accommodations for students with learning disabilities are alternative print formats, taped lectures, note takers, alternative ways of completing assignments, course substitutions, early syllabus, exam modifications and priority registration.

Instructional Strategies: The following strategies may be on the Letter of Accommodation to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials and activities. Some are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Have copies of the syllabus ready three to five weeks prior to the start of classes so textbooks can be ordered.
  • Reduced course load.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note taker from the class.
  • Allow the student to tape record lectures.
  • Students benefit from the use of visual aids, handouts and any multimedia approach.
  • Allow the use of spell check and grammar-assistive devices for in class work or do not lower grades for in class errors.
  • Provide extended time for quizzes, test or exams.
  • An alternate test format may be needed.
  • Time for clarification of directions and essential information may be needed.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students and avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Mobility and Dexterity Impairment
Mobility impairments range in severity from limitations on stamina to paralysis. Some mobility impairments are caused by conditions present at birth while others are the result of illness or physical injury. Quadriplegia, paralysis of the extremities and trunk, is caused by a neck injury. Students with quadriplegia have limited or no use of their arms and hands and often use motorized wheelchairs. Paraplegia, paralysis of the lower extremities and the lower trunk, is caused by an injury to the mid-back. Students often use a manual wheelchair and have full movement of arms and hands. Other causes of mobility impairments may include amputation, arthritis, back disorders, cerebral palsy and neuromuscular disorders.

Some Considerations:
A physical disability is often separate from other matters of cognition and general health. It does not imply that a student has other health problems or difficulty with intellectual functioning. Dependency and helplessness are usually not characteristic of physical disabilities. It might take a student with mobility impairment extra time to speak or act. Allow the student to set the pace while walking or talking. A wheelchair is a personal assistance device rather than something to which one is confined. It is also a part of a student’s personal space. Do not lean on or touch the chair and do not push the chair unless asked. Physical access to a class is the first barrier a student with mobility impairment may face. A sidewalk which hasn’t been shoveled, new construction along a route or mechanical problems with a wheelchair can easily cause the student to be late. Common accommodations for students with mobility impairments include priority registration, note takers, accessible classroom, location and furniture, alternative ways of completing assignments, lab or library assistants, assistive computer technology, exam modifications and conveniently located parking.

Instructional Strategies: The following strategies may be on the Letter of Accommodation to ensure the accessibility of course instruction, materials and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • If necessary, arrange for a room change before the term begins. Disability Services will assist with a room change.
  • If possible, try not to seat wheelchair users in the back row. Move a desk or rearrange seating at a table, so the student is part of the regular classroom seating.
  • Make sure accommodations are in place for in class written work. Allow the student to use a scribe or assistive computer technology or to complete the assignments outside of class.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students and avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Psychological Disabilities
Students with psychological disabilities can have very successful college careers. At times, determining and providing appropriate accommodations can be a challenge. Common psychological disabilities include:

  • Depression. Depression is a major disorder that can begin at any age. Major depression may be characterized by a depressed mood most of each day, a lack of pleasure in most activities, thoughts of suicide, insomnia and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. It can also effect memory, concentration and follow through.
  • Bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder). Bipolar disorder causes a person to experience periods of mania and depression. Concentration, memory and organization are affected. In the manic phase, a person might experience inflated self-esteem and decreased need to sleep. In the depressed phase, they lose energy and motivation.
  • Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders can disrupt a person’s ability to concentrate and cause hyperventilation, a racing heart, chest pains, dizziness, panic and extreme fear.
  • Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia can cause a person to lose touch with reality, experiencing delusions and hallucinations. Concentration and organization are affected.

Some Considerations: Trauma is not the sole cause of psychological disabilities. Genetics may play a role. With appropriate treatment, often combining medications, psychotherapy and support, the majority of psychological disorders are controlled. Common accommodations for students with psychological disabilities are exam modifications, alternative ways of completing assignments, time extensions, priority registration, taped lectures and early syllabus.

Instructional Strategies: The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Extended test time.
  • Reduced course load.
  • Allow student to tape record lectures.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note taker.
  • Lab assistants may be helpful.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students and avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Systemic Disabilities
Systemic disabilities are conditions affecting one or more of the body’s systems. These include the respiratory, immunological, neurological and circulatory systems. There are many kinds of systemic impairments, varying significantly in their effects and symptoms. Common systemic disabilities include the following:

  • Cancer. Cancer is a malignant growth that can affect any part of the body.
  • Chemical dependency. Chemical dependency is considered a disabling condition when it is documented that a person has received treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction and is not currently using. Chemical dependency can cause permanent cognitive impairments.
  • Diabetes mellitus. Diabetes mellitus causes a person to lose the ability to regulate blood sugar. People with diabetes often need to follow a strict diet and may require insulin injections. During a diabetic reaction, a person may experience confusion, sudden personality changes or loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, diabetes can also cause vision loss, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, stroke or necessitate the amputation of limbs.
  • Epilepsy. Epilepsy or seizure disorder causes a person to experience a loss of consciousness. Seizures vary from short absence or petit mal seizures to the less common grand mal. Seizures are frequently controlled by medications and are most often not emergency situations. (Note: If a student has a seizure, Public Safety must be contacted. They will notify emergency medical services (EMS). If the student regains consciousness, they do not have to take the ambulance.)
  • Epstein Barr or chronic fatigue syndrome. Epstein Barr virus or chronic fatigue syndrome is an autoimmune disorder which causes extreme fatigue, loss of appetite and depression. Physical or emotional stress may adversely affect a person with this condition.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV, which causes AIDS, inhibits one’s ability to fight off illness and infections. Symptoms vary greatly.
  • Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a multisystem condition which can cause paralysis, fatigue, fever, dermatitis, sleeping problems, memory dysfunction, cognitive difficulties and depression.
  • Lupus erthematosis. Lupus can cause inflammatory lesions, neurological problems, extreme fatigue, persistent flu-like symptoms, impaired cognitive ability, connective tissue dysfunction and mobility impairments.
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). MCS often results from prolonged exposure to chemicals. A person with MCS becomes increasingly sensitive to chemicals found in everyday environments. Though reactions vary, nausea, rashes, light-headedness and respiratory distress are common to MCS.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a progressive neurological condition with a variety of symptoms such as loss of strength, numbness, vision impairments, tremors, and depression. The intensity of MS symptoms can vary greatly from day to day.
  • Renal disease or failure. Renal disease or failure can result in loss of bladder control, extreme fatigue, pain and toxic reactions that can cause cognitive difficulties.

Some Considerations: Students affected by systemic disabilities differ from those with other disabilities, because systemic disabilities are often unstable. This causes a person’s condition to vary. Therefore, the need for and type of reasonable accommodations may also change. Common accommodations for students with systemic disabilities include conveniently located parking, note takers, extended time to complete a task, alternative ways of completing assignments, relocation of a meeting or class, early syllabus, priority registration and exam modifications.

Instructional Strategies: Systemic disabilities often require instructional strategies similar to those listed for other disability conditions. The use of such strategies will depend on how the disability is manifested. If a faculty or staff member would like more information about instructional strategies for students with systemic disabilities, he or she should contact Disability Services.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Though not always visible and sometimes seemingly minor, brain injury is complex. It can cause physical, cognitive, social and vocational changes that affect an individual for a short period of time or permanently. Depending on the extent and location of the injury, symptoms caused by brain injury vary widely. Some common results are seizures, loss of balance or coordination, difficulty with speech, limited concentration, memory loss and loss of organizational and reasoning skills.

Some Considerations: Students with brain injuries might perform well on brief, structured tasks but have significant deficits in learning, memory and executive functions. Recovery from a brain injury can be inconsistent. Common accommodations for students with brain injuries are exam modifications, time extensions, taped lectures, instructions presented in more than one way, alternative ways of completing assignments, early syllabus, note takers, course substitutions, priority registration, study skills and strategies training and alternative print formats.

Distance Education
Faculty teaching distance education courses should do the following:

  • Include a statement about disability accommodations on syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities)
  • Provide and arrange for accommodations only for students who have documentation on file.
  • Maintain the same standards for students with disabilities as for all other students.
  • Negotiate with the student what accommodations will be used and how those accommodations will be implemented.
  • Make course materials accessible.
  • Consult with Disability Services for any special needs that may arise, such as testing accommodations and alternative formats.
  • Maintain confidentiality.