Accommodating Students with Psychiatric Disabilities

Al Souma, Disability Support Services Seattle Central Community College DO-IT, University of Washington

What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is a term that refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, relating and functional behaviors. These disorders result in substantially diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Postsecondary Students with Disabilities
More than 400,000 students enrolled in U.S. postsecondary institutions report having a mental illness or emotional disturbance.
(National Center for Education Statistics, 1999)


The Emphasis is on ACCESS NOT on outcome

Laws Requiring Reasonable Accommodations
1973 Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act

Symptoms of a Mental Health Problem
Chronically missing class Assignments consistently late Extreme highs or lows in mood, anxieties Problem concentrating, remembering Marked personality change Confused or disorganized thinking Thinking or talking about suicide Denial of obvious problems

Major Depression
Mood disorder Depressed mood over long period Lack of pleasure in activities Thoughts of suicide Sleep and appetite changes Low self esteem Feeling guilty and/or worthless

Bipolar Affective Disorder
Previously Manic Depressive Disorder Mood disorder Revolving periods of mania and depression Either grandiose, euphoric, highly productive/creative, or depressed, withdrawn, hopeless

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Anxiety Disorder Exposure to traumatic event Flashbacks Dissociations

Thought Disorder Delusions, hallucinations, paranoia Difficulty with daily functional tasks Poor interpersonal relationships Concrete thought processing Need for structured routine

Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder 

Excessive worry in general Consuming fixation and ritualistic behaviors Overwhelming physiological event Incapacitating fear of social interactions Intense fear of specific object, event

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder 

Panic Disorder 

Social Phobias 

Specific Phobias 

Medication Side Effects
Drowsiness Fatigue Excessive thirst Blurred vision Hand tremors Initiating Interpersonal contact

Functional Limitations
Screening out environmental Stimuli Sustaining concentration Maintaining stamina Handling time pressures and multi-tasks Interacting with others Fear of authority figures Responding to negative feedback Responding to change Severe test anxiety

Strategies for Inclusion in College
Teach to various learning styles--visual,
auditory, kinesthetic

Increase experiential learning activities Increase knowledge and acceptance of mental illness Be prepared to set behavioral limits Know campus mental health resources Work cooperatively with students Assist students with time management

Principles of Accommodation
Address individual needs Respect student¶s desire for confidentiality Engage in joint problem solving Make all accommodations voluntary Review accommodations periodically Be flexible in enforcing policies Identify accommodations clearly

Accommodations are NOT Reasonable if they...
Pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others Make substantial changes in essential elements of the curriculum Require substantial alteration to educational opportunities/course objectives Pose undue financial or administrative burden

Possible Classroom Accommodations
Preferential seating, near door Assigned classmate as assistant Beverages permitted Prearranged or frequent breaks Tape recorder, note taker Early availability of syllabus, text Text, assignments in alternate formats Personal and private feedback

Possible Examination Accommodations
Change in test format 

(Written to oral and vise versa, dictation, scripted, typed)

Permit use of computer software Exams in alternate format (portfolio, demo) Extended test taking time Individual proctoring Separate, quiet room for testing Increased test frequency.

Possible Assignment Accommodations
Substitute assignments in specific circumstances Advance notice of assignments Allow assignments hand written Written rather than oral, or vise versa Change format: drama, role-play, sculpture Assignment assistance--ask Extensions on assignments

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