Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention

Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention Department

Mental Health Disabilities


The term mental health disability covers a wide range of conditions varying in symptoms and severity. In the DSPS Division, the most commonly observed diagnoses are disorders of mood (bipolar disorder and major depression), anxiety and panic disorders, obsessive- compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.

These conditions may fluctuate or remain stable, affecting whether accommodations are required, and will vary greatly from student to student. These types of disabilities are now recognized to have a strong biological basis and are not a matter of will power or choice. Many people can be effectively treated with appropriate psychotherapy and modern psychiatric medication, which reduces the acute symptoms and enables them to return to regular daily activities. The disability may be hidden and have little or no impact on learning. In other cases, the classroom strategies listed in the Overview of Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory or Attention are needed.

Misconceptions and stigma about mental illness often complicate providing educational support for students with a history of mental health disabilities. The degree of ease a student has in disclosing this type of disability depends on the individual student and how comfortable and welcoming the environment is.

Sometimes people are afraid to approach students realistically because they fear the students are too fragile or unpredictable. Most students with these disabilities react to increased stress by withdrawing and may actually welcome an opportunity to communicate their desire for assistance. If a student’s behavior begins to affect others in your course, meet with the student privately. Be forthright and delineate the limits of acceptable behavior.

Students with mental health disabilities generally react favorably to encouraging environments in which they have the opportunity to participate as full members. The support personnel available to assist the student and faculty member include the DSS Counselors or LD Specialist, the DSS staff, other counselors in the Counseling and Advising Center, and Psychological Services. Additionally, students with mental health disabilities who register with DSPS are strongly encouraged to maintain their regular support and medical treatment systems in the community.


Classroom Strategies

  • Allow beverages needed because of medication side effects.
  • Be flexible with attendance or assignment due dates in the event of a recurrence of symptoms.
  • Assist the student in filing for an Incomplete or a late Withdrawal, rather than give a failing grade in the event of a relapse.


Creative Solutions

Margie was a student who preferred anonymity in class. Her panic disorder especially affected her in situations where she had to speak in front of others. Imagine her distress when she attended her first class and learned that the final would be an individual class presentation! In addition, it quickly became clear that the instructor encouraged participation by randomly calling on students. Margie threw up before class for a week, and she seriously considered dropping this major requirement until she discussed the problem with her counselor. After rehearsing, she and her counselor met with the teacher to discuss her accommodation needs.

The solution Margie proposed was to promise to make occasional class comments in exchange for assurances she would not be called on. They collaborated on changing the final to a written report she would copy and distribute to her classmates. Margie felt awkward in the class initially, but as class cohesion and camaraderie increased, she felt more comfortable, and informally shared her public speaking fears. The class accepted her written report, and she was able to make a few comments about it. She successfully completed the class.


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Part 5 - Disabilities Affecting Cognition, Memory, or Attention Building:

Last Updated: 6/13/17