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Teaching Strategies
Psychological Disabilities

The American Psychiatric Association defines a psychological disability as any persistent psychological or psychiatric disorder or emotional or mental illness resulting in impairment of educational, social, or vocational functioning as reported by a mental health professional, based on a diagnosis from the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1987, 3rd ed., revised). Examples of psychological disabilities include manic depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, post traumatic stress disorders, anxiety disorders, delusional disorders, and eating disorders.

Psychological disabilities can create barriers to education in different ways. First, stigmas associated with psychological disabilities prevent many students from self identifying and subsequently receiving the help that they may need. Additionally, individuals with psychological disabilities often take medication that may produce side effects such as restlessness, fatigue, or excessive thirst. Following is a list of strategies that can be used with students who have psychological disabilities.

Instructional Strategies to Help Students with Psychological Disabilities

  • Allow students who have difficulty concentrating to tape lectures or use a note taker.
  • Provide alternative testing (extended time and/or distraction free room) for students who are easily distracted by noise or activity.
  • Give cues to the task at hand and/or break down tasks into small steps when students experience difficulty focusing on tasks.
  • Offer breaks to students who become fatigued.
  • Provide the following for students who have difficulty managing time and deadlines:
    • Planning projects by breaking them into small, manageable parts
    • Clearly detailed syllabi
    • Advance notice for tests and quizzes
  • Address inappropriate classroom behavior with the student in private, delineating if necessary the limits of acceptable behavior.
  • Permit late withdrawals or incompletes in the event of disability related excessive absences.