Helping Struggling Students Through Accommodations

By Dr. Jami Wilder

Imagine sitting at a desk in a noisy, listening to your teacher talking at a rapid pace. All the while, you are trying desperately to understand the concepts. You spend lots of effort attempting to organize your notes that never seem to make sense the next day. Meanwhile, your attention is being constantly pulled in different directions. Sitting at your desk hour after hour is tortuous, making it increasingly harder to pay attention to the information that you know will be on a test that you will struggle more than your peers to pass.

Each year, thousands of students struggle with the tasks demanded of them by their academic experience. While academic struggles are common for almost every kid, some children struggle more than others. Challenges can come in many forms from undiagnosed learning challenges like reading disorder or attention deficit disorder to experiences with traumatic events and psychological health issues like anxiety and depression. When kids must divert resources to coping with these challenges, focusing on school performance may be nearly impossible.

One way to help kids cope with these challenges is to determine if they qualify for accommodations in the school setting. Academic accommodations help to level the playing field for kids who experience learning, attention, or emotional and behavioral difficulties that interfere with school performance. Examples of accommodations can range from extended time on tests to alternative forms of assignments and tests.

Important History Related to Academic Accommodations:

The right to reasonable accommodations was secure through the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act granted accommodation to people who have disabilities that interfere with performing a major life task (such as learning, reading, speaking, working). Section 504 of the act offers guidance regarding who gets accommodations and under what circumstance.

A student with a documented disability has the right to reasonable accommodations under the act. “Documented” and “reasonable” are key words. “Reasonable” means that organizations (schools, testing centers, etc.) must take reasonable steps to level the playing field so that students can compete with peers. It does not mean the testing or educational situation has to be perfect.

“Documented” means that a student must have been evaluated to establish the existence of a learning disability or other hardship that interfere with the educational process like an anxiety or mood disorder. To document this, the student will need to be evaluated by a professional, like a psychologist, who can explore the cognitive, emotional, and academic challenges that are present. It will usually require a diagnosis of the challenge.

Students with documents disabilities may receive special education services through a “504 Plan” or an “Individualized Education Plan.” Accommodations can include things such as extended time or frequent breaks during testing or other things that help them reach their true potential. According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, the experience of requesting, gaining, and implementing accommodations varies widely by state. The experience and outcomes also vary by student related to how well accommodations are matched to the students, which is one of the challenges that parents face when advocating for their children.

The process of seeking accommodations can be lengthy and challenging for parents and students alike. Gathering as much information as possible as you can before you start the process can help. Return to Life in Balance all week for additional information on academic accommodations.
Check out Part Two –

Jami Wilder, Psy.D., is co-owner of Wilder Therapy and Wellness in Cranston, RI.


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