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Students with Disabilities

Accommodating Students with Learning Disabilities & ADHD


Allowing specific accommodations gives all students a level “playing field,” and allows the student with disabilities an equal opportunity to prosper academically and contribute to society. The careers of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Niels Bohr, for instance, show what persons with learning disabilities can accomplish despite initial difficulties. Although not all accommodations or techniques will work for every individual, below are some time-tested recommendations.

General Principles

  • Recognize that students may need to learn and demonstrate information in different ways.
  • Maintain your course standards.
  • Vary your classroom structure and your methods of presenting material.

Specific Teaching Strategies

Spelling and Punctuation:

Consider not lowering the student’s grade for spelling or punctuation errors on timed exams. Focus on content. Students’ difficulty with spelling and punctuation increases drastically under timed conditions. Thus asking for a focus on spelling or punctuation under these circumstances can deflect the student’s attention from the main exam goal—demonstrating an understanding of course material. Such students often do markedly better when taking exams on a computer and using the spell-check function.

When correcting a students’ spelling, punctuation, or misused words, don’t simply mark what is wrong, but help the student see the correct version. For repeated spelling errors and word substitutions, it may help to provide the correct spelling for the word above or to the side of the incorrect word, and to underline or circle the letters that are different, particularly if they are transposed. You can also ask the Writing Center tutors to look for and go over such spelling issues with the student (send a written note with the student for the tutor). For patterns of substituted words, you might mention the word the student needs or indicate a dictionary or a grammar handbook chapter that will explain the differences. Many grammar handbooks list the most commonly misspelled and confused or misunderstood words. Such lists can be valuable references for students with learning disabilities.

Assessment and Exams:

Consider modifying exam procedures. Computer-scored or “bubble” answer sheets present a problem for some students. Other students might need to type exams on a computer with spell-check, or to use a spelling dictionary, a calculator, or scratch paper (for students with handwriting problems). Certain students (for instance, students with a slower reading rate) might also need extra time for the exam and/or a separate room to filter out distraction or allow for oral rather than written questions (LNEC can provide a proctor).

Consider allowing specific modifications that clarify the background information needed for the exam. For students who cannot recognize negative symbols, and so perform mathematical problems perfectly except for treating negative numbers as positive numbers, all you might need to do is highlight or circle the negative symbols on exams, thus allowing such students to “see” the symbols. Or you might allow memory-impaired students a card for exams that lists the names of characters or other basic information. NB: Allowing one student but not others to bring in a card immediately identifies the student as learning-disabled, and may create resentment among the other students for this “special treatment.” You can either allow all students such cards, modifying the exam accordingly, or give the special student the exam in a separate room or at another time. Such accommodations do not allow students to cheat when the purpose of the exam is not memory recall because they test whether students can use this information to demonstrate their competence at statistics, economics, or literature. Such an accommodation becomes more problematic, of course, when you must test recall, as in foreign-language courses.

Consider having your students demonstrate their knowledge with modes other than final timed multiple-choice or essay exams. You might substitute short-answer questions or a combination of written and oral examinations.

Correlation of Specific Strategies with Specific Learning Disabilities



Difficulty in Processing
Auditory or Visual
Additional Possible Disabilities
Assignments Use a clear syllabus with all due dates. Give assignments aloud and in writing.
Solicit questions to check comprehension.
Supplement lectures by writing terms on the blackboard, overheads, or handouts.
Allow note-takers from LNEC or set up a note-taking system.
Supplement oral with visual presentation, and vice versa.
Encourage the student to sit in front.
Pair students to discuss ideas for comprehension.
Recommend a tutor.
Papers Recommend a thesaurus if the student consistently writes around a forgotten word.
Recommend the student put a similar word in brackets.
Require students to type and spell-check assignments.
Encourage or require drafts.
Require work with Writing Center staff.

When correcting, focus on important errors, and correct spelling or structure.

Check to see that the student understands each assignment.
Have the student read the assignment in class and solicit questions.
Require Writing Center help.
NB: It is always possible to consult with the LNEC to see if a specific accommodation is necessary.
Consider allowing index cards with names of characters or other background information. Don’t penalize spelling or punctuation on timed exams.
Consider allowing use of a spelling dictionary or computer for exams.
Consider allowing more time for exams.
 Provide instructions in writing as well as orally.
Emphasize instructions by highlighting, underlining, using asterisks, and so on.
Answer questions at the beginning of the exam, and provide a knowledgeable proctor if you’re not there.
You may need to allow extended time for exams or allow the student to take exams at the LNEC.