22 Accommodations & Modifications for Students with Disabilities

accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities

Who can have accommodations & modifications in school?

Students who are determined to have a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (e.g., autism, ADHD, intellectual disability, emotional disability, learning disability) can get accommodations and medications.

Students who have a disabling condition diagnosed by a medical professional (which impacts their ability to perform at their best in school) can also access accommodations/modifications.

Students eligible for accommodations and/or modifications in school have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan (described in further detail in the paragraphs below).

These are legal documents that outline the accommodations and modifications, along with other relevant information about the student’s needs.

You may be interested in 33 Possible Accommodations and Modifications in the Virtual Setting

How do we know if a student meets the criteria for a disability under IDEA?

Whether your child meets the criteria for a disability under IDEA is generally determined by an evaluation completed by a school psychologist.

Sometimes other professionals such as a speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, special education teacher, school counselor, or hearing specialist participate in the evaluation process as well.

These same professionals, along with the child’s parents or guardians, can help determine what accommodations or modifications should be included in the student’s IEP or 504 plan.

Sometimes the student can give insight into what they need as well.

Related Article: How Do You Know if Your Child Needs an IEP at School?

What is the purpose of giving students accommodations or modifications in school?

The purpose of the accommodations and modifications is to provide students with disabilities with the tools they need to be as successful.

It is a way to “level the playing field” with peers by removing any barriers to learning that could be related to the disability.

Just like a student who is visually impaired would receive books written in braille or books on tape so they could learn the material, students with other kinds of disabilities or conditions benefit from accommodations and modifications as well.

What is the difference between accommodations and modifications?

An accommodation gives the student an alternative or more effective way of learning the material.

A modification is a reduction in the amount of material or a change to the material itself.

Here are some more examples:

Accommodation: A student has a learning disability in reading. The teachers read math word problems aloud to the student to ensure understanding.

This allows him/her to focus on the math problem without any confusion that could emerge from reading difficulties.

Modification: A student has a disability in math and has trouble focusing on independent work. They take twice as long as their peers to complete their work. Therefore they are given half the amount of homework, so they can get it done in a timely fashion.

What are some common reasons for accommodations or modifications in school?

There are many reasons why a child might benefit from modifications or accommodations such as difficulty focusing, trouble sitting still, seizures, anxiety or depression, learning difficulties, etc.

However, in each case, the specific reasons need to be related to the child’s disability.

What is a 504 Plan?
Section 504, part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibits discrimination based upon disability. According to Section 504 the needs of students with disabilities must be met as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities.

If your child has a medical diagnosis of a physical or mental condition or disability, but does not meet criteria or show a need for special education, they may be eligible for a 504 plan.

The disability must “substantially limit one or more major life activity such as: learning, speaking, listening, reading, writing, concentrating, caring for oneself, etc.,” in order to be eligible for a 504 plan.

The 504 plan, created from input from the parents, teacher(s), school records, and sometimes the student, outlines specific accommodations your child is entitled to to meet their needs so she can perform to the best of her ability.

In order to be eligible for a 504 plan, there needs to be evidence at school (e.g., consistent social, academic, or behavioral difficulties) demonstrating that your child is not performing on par with her peers due to their disability.

What is an IEP?

IEP stands for Individualized Education Program

The IEP consists of information such as:

  • current academic performance
  • specific academic, behavioral, or social-emotional needs and goals
  • the level/intensity of services your child will receive
  • the accommodations/modifications
  • the level of participation in state and district-wide tests, how progress will be measured
  • transition services (for students 14 and older) such as what the student’s goals/plans are for after high school

To be eligible for an IEP a child needs:

  • an evaluation conducted by a school psychologist
  • a determination from the school psychologist, basd on the evaluation, that the student has a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Examples include, ADHD, autism, intellectual disability, learning disability, emotional disturbance, speech language impairment, visual impairment, hearing impairment, traumatic brain injury).

  • the school team decision that the child needs special education services to meet their academic, behavioral, and/or social-emotional needs.

You may not know if your child or student needs an IEP or 504 plan.

If you are wondering if a child has a disability or needs an IEP or 504 plan, arrange a meeting with the school team (teacher, administrator, counselor, etc.) to determine the next steps to ensure the child’s educational needs are met.

You can request an evaluation from the school to determine what your child needs.

22 School Accommodations & Modifications Available to Children with Disabilities in School

1. Movement breaks.

Movement breaks are often helpful for children who have trouble sitting still.

Movement can include but is not limited to the following:

  • going to get a drink
  • taking a walk in the hall
  • standing up and stretching
  • passing out materials
  • running an errand to the office
  • moving around within area
  • allowing flexible seating options (e.g., wobble stool, yoga ball)

Movement can also be incorporated into learning activities.

See 10 Fun Activities to Teach Your Child Letter Sounds for ideas to incorporate movement into learning.

Movement Breaks

Movement is also using fidget items or stress toys such as squishy balls, chair bands, or popits.

These items can be used during a break or during classwork (if used to regulate the need to move and maintain focus).

Other Related Articles:
How to Use Exercise to Help Kids with Autism and ADHD
14 Effective Strategies to Help Children with ADHD (Home and School)

2. Mental breaks.

Mental Breaks

Mental breaks are often helpful for students who have trouble applying consistent effort for a considerable amount of time.

The student may become considerably frustrated, anxious, or lose focus without a break. The purpose of the break is to allow the student to return to work in a more productive state.

Breaks could include a preferred activity (e.g., drawing, helping a younger class, resting at seat) or a movement activity like the ones mentioned above.

Related Article: 18 Break/Privilege Ideas Increase Student Motivation and Participation

3. Standing at desk or moving in area as needed.

Stand at Desk

May be helpful for children who have trouble staying seated or sitting still for long periods of time.

4. Extended time allotted for tests, projects, assignments, and quizzes.

Extended Time for Tests, Projects


Extended time is helpful for students with disabilities who have test anxiety, trouble organizing the steps in a project, difficulty working quickly, difficulty remaining focused on a task, etc.

5. Staff or technology reads aloud test questions or other written material.

Have Test Questions

Helpful for students with a reading, vision, or intellectual disability, or students who have trouble focusing while reading.

6. Calculators.

A calculator can be helpful for students when their disability affects their ability to solve math calculations.

Use of Calculator

They may be allowed when solving word problems, science equations, etc. (in my experience, schools have different policies in regard to offering this accommodation).

7. Revise written work to standard before grading student assignment.

This accommodation can be helpful for students with a writing disability, or for students whose writing is affected by focus challenges.

After the first draft, the teacher would give the student feedback about any editing that needs to be done. The student will revise the work, asking for clarification if needed.

This can be done until the assignment meets expectations.

See Guided Writing for Supporting Students through this process.

8. Access to the school counselor as determined necessary by the student.

This accommodation can be helpful for students with emotional disabilities (known as emotional disturbance in the school setting).

Students may be suffering from severe anxiety or depression that interferes with work productivity.

You may think all students should have this access, but most students are only allowed to see the guidance counselor on a limited basis.

If your child has an accommodation to see the support staff as needed, visits cannot be limited.

9. Use of a scribe.

A scribe is someone who writes for a student. The student tells the scribe what to write. Helpful for students with fine motor needs (trouble holding a pencil, trouble writing legibly, etc.).

In my personal experience, some schools may not offer this accommodation, so talk to your school team.

Speech-to-text technology apps or programs are another option, such as the notes app on IPAD or the dictation feature on Microsoft Word.

Use of a Scribe

10. Class notes.

Students may get a copy of class notes. They may also get guided notes, in which they fill in the blanks as the teacher explains the concepts, rather than writing all the notes).

Class notes can be helpful for students who have trouble focusing on the lesson while taking notes at the same time or for students who have trouble remembering information from a lesson.

Some students may benefit from an audio recording of the class.

Guided Notes Sample with a Graphic organizer

11. Type or write assignments.

Give Student the Opportunity

Helpful for students who have trouble holding a pencil, writing legibly, etc. Similar to the reasons for utilizing a scribe or speech-to-text program.

12. Take test in a small group setting.

This accommodation is helpful for students who have trouble focusing in a large setting or for students who need questions/directions read aloud or clarified.

13. Modification of assignments.

A student may be given fewer problems or asked to complete a smaller amount of work.

Another example would be giving a student a multiple-choice test with only three options to choose from whereas most other students have to choose from four choices.

This can be helpful for students who get overwhelmed or confused with the typical assignment.

A student who struggles with written expression may be asked to write two paragraphs instead of five.

A student who gets overwhelmed during math may get 10 problems instead of 20 for homework.

14. Chunking assignment.

This is where an assignment is broken down into mini-assignments and the student is asked to complete each portion one at a time.

For example, if there are 20 questions, the student would be asked to complete five questions (take a break, show the teacher, have the work checked, etc.) and then move on to the next five.

Another example could be a long test broken up into portions over a specified number of days.

Helpful for students who benefit from comprehension checks before moving forward or who have trouble applying sustained effort without losing focus or becoming overwhelmed or frustrated.

15. Reducing the reading level of material.

Here is an example: Let’s say an eighth-grade student is reading on a fourth-grade level and has a reading disability.

His science teacher is giving a lesson on astronomy. For this modification, the student would be allowed to read a fourth-grade level book on the subject rather than having to read the eighth-grade level material.

A google search for “astronomy for kds” can also provide some lower-level reading material on the subject.

16. Audio books.

A student with a reading disability or other disability that makes traditional reading difficult would be allowed to listen to an audio version of a book or read along with an audio version to help them better understand the information.

Audio Books

Amazon Audible has Hundreds of Audio Books

Itunes Dream Reader App Can Turn Any Text to Audio

17. Preferential seating.

With preferential seating, the student is seated close to the point of instruction, away from distracting items or objects (fidget item okay if needed) such as the door, window, pencil sharpener, etc.

Preferential Seating

Preferential seating is helpful for students who may become easily distracted by noise and movement.

18. Brief meeting with teacher before reading or writing assignment.

Examples: student meets with teacher to discuss his/her ideas about a writing assignment, teacher share new vocabulary of an upcoming reading assignment, etc.)

19. Using graphic organizers to enhance writing skills and reading comprehension.

See How to Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Academic Skills for more on this topic.

20. Teacher check-ins during independent assignments.

Check-ins are helpful for students who have trouble or who get confused working independently.

21. Using a timer or visual timer.

Use of a Timer

This can be helpful for students who need to know when an activity will end due to anxiety about the length of an activity e.g., not knowing how long it will last) or because they need preparation for transitions (changes in activities that are about to occur).

Related Article: 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion

22. Incorporating visuals and interactive/hands-on experiences into verbal lessons/lectures.

This strategy can be helpful for students who struggle to understand lengthy verbal or written information.

Related Article: A Highly Effective Strategy to Teach Academic Concepts to Children with Autism

Video Presentation

After the original article and video were published we added a bonus accommodation.

23. Utilize a number line or number chart to solve math equations without a calculator.

These tools can be helpful for math if the student cannot access a calculator, or if they want to continue to practice their basic skills.

Number Line
Number Line

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