Disability Resource Center

Strategy Tips for Students with Disabilities

Learning Disabilities/ADHD   Hearing Disabilities   Psychological Disorder  Physical Disabilities 
Speech Disabilities  Visual Disorder   Other Disabilities


General Strategy Tips

  • Pay attention to the student's learning style and know your own learning style (when you become frustrated while tutoring - you will revert to tutoring in the style in which you learn – which is not necessarily the way the student learns)
  • Give the student time, time and still more time Tutor in a quiet, non-distracting environment – be sure to check for both auditory and visual distractions
  • Tutor in a well-lighted area Present information in small, manageable steps – isolate each step (use index cards, bullets, single sheets of paper, highlight with different colors, etc.)
  • Give practical, "real world" examples Experiment with large print (can use a copy machine to increase the size) Elicit brainstorming – ask "why" (a lot!)
  • Ask student to paraphrase information presented Drill for rote learning while walking (rhythm leads to more focused attention)
  • Allow frequent breaks  (remember the average "adult" attention span is 30 minutes)
  • Restate information differently (if it doesn't confuse the student) Prepare the student for changes in routine
  • Show information in a multitude of different ways (use text, pictures, graphic organizers, etc.)
  • Use technology ("talking" calculators and spell checkers, graphing calculators, and computers)
  • Discuss vocabulary words before working from any textbook
  • Use highlighting to make specific passages or items stand out
  • Have student read/sign to you Jot notes in the text margin (or use Post-It ® notes)
  • Discuss review questions Have student take notes while you read instructions/directions, etc.
  • Pay attention to the student – when he/she seems to be getting frustrated, stop and take a break and then have the student describe for you what is frustrating him/her
  • Model effective and efficient study skills
Strategies for Tutoring Students with Learning Disabilities and/or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD/ADD)
  • State the objectives of the tutoring session (what will be covered during the tutoring session) before you start tutoring
  • Set distinct limits for each tutoring session and provide clear structure ("first we'll work on math, then we'll change to..., and finally, we'll review what we've done today")
  • Stick to the structure unless student asks to work on something else.  If this happens – remember to "re-set" the structure for the new area the two of you will be working on
  • At the end of the tutoring session or segment of tutoring session, review what you have accomplished, better yet, ask the student to review it and remind the student of anything he/she has not included
  • Slow down the pace of the tutoring session and then control the pace of the session to allow time for the student to fully process the information
  • Make eye contact frequently.  This helps in maintaining attention and in encouraging participation If the student's attention wanders or seems less focused, take a 5-10 minute break and get out of the tutoring space for a change of scenery If the student clearly has trouble regaining focus after a break, ask him/her to review what you have accomplished so far...the more you notice whether the student is paying attention, the more connected they will feel and the easier it will be to get back on task
  • Explain information in a precise way, never be vague Break learning down into small, highly visible, sequential steps Never make assumptions about what the learner knows or should know
  • Present instructions/directions one step at a time
  • Try to think of mnemonic devices  or "tricks" to help the student memorize new strategies, processes, and/or rules Verbalize your thinking process so student can hear and see the process of how to process information If you become really frustrated – take a break.  If you keep tutoring you will not be helping the student (or yourself) at all
  • Be careful of the words and phrases you use to motivate a student.  Words like: easy, simple, etc. are judgment calls as are phrases like: everybody can do this or you will have it done in no time...think how the student would feel if those words and phrases proved to be wrong for this student.
  • One-to-one tutoring may be the only way to tutor these students – small group tutoring may be just too distracting or embarrassing for them Be flexible and willing to try different methods of tutoring to meet the student's needs
  • Simplify language, but not the content by using pictures, charts, maps, graphs, diagrams, etc. Remember that emotions are an important part of learning – ask the student what makes them frustrated during a tutoring session and plan strategies that will help ease the student's frustration
  • Help each student break assignments and projects into small, manageable parts...this helps the student feel less overwhelmed
  • Use colored chalk, pens, pencils, pieces of paper, etc. for emphasis and to maintain the student's focus  when tutoring Assist student to outline ideas – no matter how short – organization is crucial
  • Aim for quality not quantity
  • Praise all advancement not matter how small Use terms and vocabulary in context to convey greater meaning Provide direction/instruction in as many different ways as possible (written, spoken, illustrated, demonstrated, etc.)
  • Paraphrase key points of the tutoring session, better yet, have the student do the paraphrasing
  • Provide examples and identify things that are not examples
  • Use lots of "white space" when writing or working problems
  • Never use all capital letters when writing things out for a student – however, when using letters as bullets, always use capital letters
  • If you can not break information down into small enough steps for the student, find someone who can do it and a work with them to learn how (for example – it is frequently very hard for math majors who have taken a great deal of upper division math courses to break down the processes for working developmental math problems)
  • Remember, outlines for writing papers do not have to be linear – mapping and the "sticky note" method of outlining is frequently very useful with non-linear learners
  • Remember, not only is patience a virtue – it can also be the single most important tutoring strategy you can use when working with students with learning disabilities and/or attention deficit disorder (with or without hyperactivity)!

Strategies for Tutoring Students with Psychological Disabilities

  • Be consistent in expectations and standards for each tutoring session
  • Provide a structured environment with a routine the student can learn and expect each time he/she comes in to be tutored
  • Be positive
  • Reinforce desired behaviors
  • Provide concrete examples of what is expected of the student
  • Give clear, concise, simple directions and instructions Avoid overloading the student with too much new information at one time
  • Allow extra time to work on assignments when tutoring Allow student to work at his/her own pace Eliminate all unnecessary distractions Watch non-verbal communications – both the student's and yours
  • Pay attention to the student's frustration level – take a break before the student "shuts down"
  • Remember, you are only a tutor – if the student has other concerns, refer him/her to the appropriate individuals on campus

Strategies for Tutoring Students with Visual Disorders

  • Face the student when speaking
  • Follow the student's learning pace during the tutoring session – not yours
  • Verbalize the content printed in the textbook being used, on worksheets, on the board, etc.
  • If useful to the student, use large size print when working with the student
  • Use "talking" calculators and spell checkers
  • Use graph paper (no smaller that ½") to align numbers
  • Once the furniture in the tutoring space is arranged – do not move it.  If you must move the furniture to accommodate another student – spend part of the next tutoring session orienting the student with the visual disability to the new set-up

Strategies for Tutoring Students with Physical Disabilities

  • Those who use wheelchairs, braces, crutches, canes, or prostheses, or who fatigue easily, find it difficult moving about – occasional lateness to tutoring sessions may be unavoidable
  • Consider whether physical access to the tutoring space is a problem before the student arrives for the first tutoring session
  • Be prepared to re-arrange the tutoring space if its current set-up in not accessible
  • Familiarize yourself with the buildings emergency evacuation plan and ensure that it is manageable for students who have mobility impairments
  • If a tutoring table (or computer table) is not high enough for a student using a wheelchair, be prepared to raise the table by placing blocks or books under the table legs
  • Let the student pick where he/she wants to sit at the table – then you sit where both of you have the best access to the study materials

Strategies for Tutoring Students with Hearing Disabilities

  • Speak in a natural speaking voice When the student is using an interpreter, speak directly to and maintain eye contact with the student, not the interpreter
  • Be conscious of the time it takes for the interpreter to translate verbal information from its original language into another language (American Sign Language, Signed English, etc.) and back - because this may cause a short delay in the student receiving information, processing it, asking questions and/or offering comment. 
  • During translation lag times, maintain comfortable eye contact and posture with the student
  • One-to-one tutoring will almost always be necessary
  • Use visual aids and the board (chalk or white) to reinforce spoken information
  • Do not hesitate to communicate with the student in writing when necessary
  • Keep your hands away from your face when you are talking with the student
  • Don't chew gum during a tutoring session Repeat information as needed – but don't repeat it in a variety of different ways

Strategies for Tutoring Students with Speech Disabilities

  • Patience is the most effective strategy
  • Do not hesitate to let the student communicate in writing when necessary
  • Permit the student the time he/she requires to express him/herself, without unsolicited aid in filling in gaps in his/her speech
  • Don't be reluctant to ask the student to  repeat a statement
  • One-to-one tutoring will almost always be necessary
  • While waiting for the student to find a word or to complete a statement, maintain comfortable eye contact and posture with the student
  • Address the student naturally and in your regular speaking voice – don't assume that he/she cannot hear or comprehend because he/she has a speech disability

Strategies for Tutoring Students with Other Disabilities

  • Strategies should be based on what symptoms the student exhibits. 
  • Refer to previously stated strategies for : visual disabilities, attention deficit disorder, physical disabilities, etc.
  • HIV/AIDS: Extreme fatigue is a common symptom, plan to tutor for short periods of time (20-30 minutes at a time) during the time(s) of the day when student is at his/her best
  • Cancer: Some people may experience visual problems, lack of balance and coordination, joint pains, backaches, headaches, short attention span, abdominal pains, drowsiness, lethargy, difficulty breathing and/or swallowing, weakness, bleeding or anemia
  • Cerebral Palsy: For appropriate strategies for this disability, refer to the sections on speech disabilities, visual disabilities, and physical disabilities
  • Traumatic Brain Injury/Acquired Brain Injury, refer to the learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and visual disabilities sections for strategies for tutoring students with this disability
  • Multiple Sclerosis: For appropriate strategies for this disability, refer to the speech disabilities, visual disabilities, and physical disabilities sections
  • Muscular Dystrophy: Refer to the physical disabilities section for strategies for tutoring students with this disability
  • Respiratory Disorders: For appropriate strategies for this disability, refer to the section on physical disabilities
  • Sickle Cell Anemia: Refer to visual disability and respiratory disorder sections for strategies for tutoring students with this disability