In many situations, a professor may not be aware that a student with a psychological disability is in the class. Disclosure may be very difficult for the student. Depending on the nature of the psychological disability, a student may or may not need or request any accommodations.
Common psychological disabilities include — but are not limited to — mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder; anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias or panic disorders; or schizophrenia. With appropriate treatment that may include medications, psychotherapy and support, the majority of psychological illnesses are managed.
Students with psychological disabilities may experience challenges that negatively affect their participation in academic pursuits. Symptoms of the disability or side effects of medication may make it difficult for the student to participate in class. A student with a psychological disability may be more susceptible to the common stressors of school and interpersonal relationships. Particular problems such as receiving, processing and recalling information may be more pronounced during times of stress. The student may miss one class or have an extended absence. In addition, a student’s need for accommodations may be sporadic.
Suggested instructional strategies
- Employ the principles of universal design for learning.
- Work closely with the student to implement the accommodations outlined by the Disability Center. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions.
- If a student discloses a psychological disability and requests accommodations but is not registered with the Disability Center, encourage the student to contact the office.
- Consider providing flexibility in attendance policies and deadlines for assignments while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the class. Be aware that you are not expected to make fundamental alterations to the essential requirements of your course.
- Be realistic in seeking solutions when a student is late to class, and discuss chronic tardiness with the student.
- Assist the student in locating a notetaker for the class if requested.
- Consider offering alternative ways of completing assignments.
- Encourage and allow for periodic appointments outside of class to provide support, discuss progress and give feedback.
- Provide a detailed course syllabus that clearly addresses expectations at the beginning of the semester.
- Allow for exam accommodations if requested, such as providing extended time or a distraction reduced environment. Coordinate with the Disability Center if you are unable to accommodate the student on your own.
- Encourage multiple ways for students to communicate with each other and with you, including in-class discussion, group work and Web-based communication.
- Provide multiple methods for students to demonstrate knowledge, such as demonstrations, presentations and portfolios.
- Allow for adequate break time during long classes so students can attend to needs such as medications.