Tutoring Students with Disabilities
This information was developed by Concordia University – St. Paul & found at http://concordia.csp.edu/Tutoring/_Documents/Tutoring_Students_wi.pdf
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when tutoring students with disabilities.
Your student is your best resource!
Ask him/her what tutoring strategies work best!
Choose a location that is accessible for the student. The location should have tables
which are high enough for a wheelchair. The student should also be able to move around
the room easily.
Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder
Students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder may have the following
- See letters reversed or half-there or they may hear only part of a story or word.
- Difficulty determining right from left.
- Difficulty with short-term memory or difficulty remembering names, dates, or a word
that is needed to tell a story.
- Low tolerance for repetitive tasks.
- May appear in a state of confusion.
- Difficulty with pronunciation or spelling.
- Focused one day but not focused the next day.
- Take more time to start and complete tasks.
- Not successful with cramming.
- Lack self-confidence.
- Ask the same questions over and over.
- May feel lonely, rejected, isolated, shame, fear, bitterness, low self-esteem, anger.
To help students overcome these challenges during tutoring sessions, tutors may choose
to do the following:
- Ask the student about his/her strengths and weaknesses.
- Use multi-sensory materials/aids.
- Use verbal and written directions and instructions. Keep them simple.
- Use more than one example and/or demonstration.
- Use diagrams/visual demonstrations when teaching abstract concepts. For example: flash
cards, flow charts, and maps.
- Create mental pictures. Visualize.
- Use mnemonic devices.
- Use role-play techniques.
- Create outlines with the student.
- Review material over and over.
- Highlight key points and concepts.
- Break lengthy concepts/assignments into shorter segments.
- Put one problem or one question on one piece of paper so that the student is not distracted
by various items on one page.
- Pause between ideas/concepts. Allow time for processing.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Repeat directions/concepts/explanations.
- Ask questions to check for understanding. Check for understanding frequently.
- Have the student “teach” you. Allow the student to hear his/herself explain the concepts.
- Relate concepts to a similar task or procedure already learned.
- Conduct your tutoring sessions in a quiet location without distraction.
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have preferred forms of communication. They
may rely on American Sign Language (ASL) or they may use visual cues and lip read
- When you are speaking to this student, face the student directly. Avoid blocking your
mouth with your hands. If an interpreter is present, he/she will sit next to you so
that the student can see bot of you clearly.
- Make sure you have the student’s attention before speaking. A tap on the shoulder
or wave of the hand can get the student’s attention.
- Speak the same way to a student who lip reads as you would to any other student.
- Use visual aids to support what was said. If you are talking about something on a
page in a book, point to the page so that the student understands the context of your
- Verify the student’s comprehension of a concept by asking him/her to explain it to
you. If a student does not understand what was said, rephrase it. Certain words can
be more difficult to lip read than others.
- Since the student’s first language may be ASL, the student may struggle with writing.
ASL does not include many spoken English words; therefore, the student may have many
of the same challenges as a student who is learning English as a second language.
- Conduct your tutoring sessions in a quiet location without distraction.
- Refrain from using sarcasm. Students who are hard of hearing may not understand it.
Blind or Low Vision
- Try to be consistent in a meeting location so that the student is able to find you
- Keep in mind that many students who are blind/low vision require materials in alternate
format (i.e. taped, Braille, enlarged). If you plan to provide additional information,
talk to the Disability Services department about providing it in the proper format
for the student.
- If the student has low vision, use big, bold letters when writing something down.
Watch the contrast, too. Some students may have difficulty reading words on different
- Consider using colored paper and colored pens to figure out the best contrast for
- If you refer to information that is in the book or on a sheet of paper, read the information
to the student.
- Rich verbal descriptions are extremely important. Verbalize everything you write down
- Describe pictures, illustrations, graphs in detail.
- Use very specific language. Avoid vague terms or phrases, such as, “the chair is over
there”. Be very specific! Encourage students to let you know if your description is
too vague or if they are having difficulty understanding.
- Whenever possible, provide a tactual representation of drawings and diagrams.
- Be open to exploring new equipment and software with students.
- Be aware of possible problems with lighting or noisy backgrounds, so they do not interfere
with the student’s ability to learn.
- Avoid petting a student’s service dog. The dog is working for the student owner and
shouldn’t be distracted.
Strategies for Working with Students on the Autism Spectrum (Neuro-atypical):
Refer and connect.
These students may need exceptional supportive services so try to get them connected
with others quickly. They may also need help both scheduling and following through
on appointments—this is a population where you may need to make the first appointment for and literally walk them to our office. These students may
also tend to isolate themselves, so consider ways to connect them to others with similar
interests or issues.
These students do much better with things as a known quantity. Encourage schedules and guidelines. Also, as the unknown can cause stress,
encourage an alternative plan if the first one doesn’t work out so well.
Quiet and private spaces.
These students can be overwhelmed easily. Consider places on campus where they can
calm down or be solo if needed.
Address abnormal or disruptive behavior
Ask about ways to deal with this…don’t just ignore it. Students in this population
may need to be told that if they are having tic behavior (spinning, making noise or
perseverating on something, they should leave where others are.)
Allow some time for “oddities”.
(E.g., a student may need to tell you ever license plate number in the parking lot
before getting to the heart of the matter, especially under stress. Let them do this
for some time, but cue them know when to move on.)
Consider alternative/calming ways of interaction:
- Instead of in-person meetings, will email, phone or IM suffice?
- Provide information in more than one modality: verbally, visually and in writing.
- Consider non-direct “gentle” forms of contact
- Sitting next to a student instead of face to face
- Looking down or avoiding eye contact
- Lower lighting in a room
- Lower voices
- Short, brief questions
- These students will need you to be clear, clear, clear.
- Expect to follow up often (weekly?) and be repetitive in your expectations.
- Be very concrete—provide specific steps for things. “The first thing you when meeting
with me is to take out your list of questions…”
- Before meeting with the student, send a list ahead of time of the points you would
like to discuss. Allow them to do the same.
- Check for understanding. “Tell me in your own words or write down for me what we just
- Sometimes, this population is known as being overly honest or direct. It is OK to
guide students to appropriate social behavior, but also allow them a place, time where
they can express themselves without restraint.
- This can be one instance where parents may be very helpful; you may want their interaction
at least initially or if the student is really struggling.