As a teacher working primarily with neurodivergent students, accommodations were the game-changers for most, especially mental health accommodations for school.
Imagine, if your brain was wired to make everything you do 100 times harder. If you have a learning disability it may take you significantly longer to decode words meaning that those science and social studies textbooks are extremely painful to get through.
Or if you have a sensory processing disorder, your brain may be hyperfixating on how many thousands of times the fluorescent light is subtly blinking or if you have ADHD you may be trying your hardest to sit still but your body is not cooperating.
We have to remember that while we may not be able to see a child’s disability, we are still dealing with a brain’s neuro functioning, or dysfunctioning, not simply a child making a choice.
Similarly, imagine asking a child that needs a wheelchair to walk just because that is the classroom expectation. It would be a ridiculous request just as asking a child with learning or mental health challenges to proceed as everyone else.
Understanding how mental health can impact a child’s ability to be successful in school is key, as appropriate accommodations are integral in helping children learn and thrive in the classroom.
Accommodations are tailored to the individual student’s needs and are intended to provide students with assistance so that they can demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a way that best suits them, while still maintaining the same standard of academic excellence as all other students in the classroom.
For parents and caregivers of children with mental health challenges, understanding what accommodations are available and how to access them is essential for helping your child succeed. Accommodations don’t give your child an unfair advantage- they simply provide them with the support they need to be successful in school.
Mental health issues can manifest differently in school children than adults, with symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, trouble following instructions, aggression and avoidance of certain tasks being common signs of an underlying problem.
Different interventions and supports may be necessary depending on the individual student’s needs. Mental health concerns often lead to lower academic performance, negative social interaction with peers and even physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches and fatigue.
The best way for parents and caregivers to ensure their children have the accommodations they need is by working closely with teachers, school administrators, guidance counselors and other educational professionals. They can help identify areas where your child may benefit from additional support and discuss appropriate strategies for addressing any underlying mental health concerns. Additionally, there are often resources available from the school or local mental health organizations that can provide further support.
Accommodations are an important part of supporting children with mental health challenges to be successful in school. By understanding what accommodations are and how they help, parents and caregivers can ensure their children receive the necessary support to thrive in their educational environment.
Here are a few possible mental health accommodations for school:
- Providing a quiet and calm area in the classroom for the child to take breaks when feeling overwhelmed.
- Allowing the child to have a sensory toolkit with items like stress balls or fidget toys.
- Implementing a visual schedule or daily planner to help the child with organization and routine.
- Providing preferential seating, such as near the front of the classroom or away from distractions.
- Offering extended time for completing assignments or tests.
- Allowing the use of assistive technology, like speech-to-text software or calculators.
- Assigning a buddy or peer mentor to provide social support and help with transitions.
- Providing access to a school counselor or mental health professional for regular check-ins.
- Offering alternative or modified assignments that align with the child’s abilities and strengths.
- Implementing a behavior plan or reward system to encourage positive behaviors and academic progress.
Remember these are not accommodations that all children need. Your child will not need all 100 accommodations, rather this list is for you to have a better idea of options that children with mental health needs may benefit from pending their own individual learning needs.
Depending on which country you are in there are different processes and names for the documents that include these accommodations. In the United States, students with a mental health diagnosis are entitled to a 504 Plan and if there is a disability deemed they may have an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Download the remaining 90 accommodations as well as an entire free guide to help set your child up for success at school including a student needs template, questions to ask the school, a back to school checklist, mood and habit trackers, a self-care journal, a youth survey to gain your child’s insight, and more!
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). (n.d.). Accommodations for Students With Mental Health Issues in School. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/mental-health/accommodations-students-mental-health/index.html
- American Psychological Association (APA). (2020). Mental Health at School: Tips for Parents and Caregivers of Students With Anxiety, Depression or Other Concerns – APA. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/mental-health-schools/parent-caregiver-tips
- The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). (2016). Mental Health Accommodations in Schools: What Are Parents’ Rights? Retrieved from https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/mental%20health%20in%20schools/mental_health_accommodations_in_schools_-_what_are_parents’_rights