Communicating Strengths and Needs in College

Writing a requested accommodations letter to your professors

Whether or not a student should formally disclose an autism spectrum disorder to disability support staff at a college or university is a personal decision one should make after thoughtful consideration. It is my opinion, however, that students have the potential for a better college experience when they provide faculty with information that improves the ability of the instructor to communicate with the student and accommodate his or her academic and social needs.

Using Choice to Increase Academic Success

We at Marshall University have found that providing professors with information and examples about preferred instruction styles can help facilitate a successful classroom experience. Your school might have disability services in place that offer facilitation between professors and students to help fit their accommodations. Oftentimes these services take the form of a letter written to the instructor that explains the student’s necessary accommodations for the class, which the professor must adhere to.

Look to see if your campus offers such services, and set up an appointment with a disability services representative to discuss your options. If your school does not offer services such as these, you can create this letter yourself.

Here is one example of how a letter to your professors could look.

(Please note: This information is not intended to be used “as is.” Any information provided to professors or disability support staff should be individualized, and take into account the policies and procedures of your institution. This information is intended only as an example of how information may be presented.)

Dear Professor:

My name is John Doe, and I’m a student in your History 101 class that meets each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9am. I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. I’m very interested in the class and able to meet the course requirements. Because of the syndrome, however, I respond to some teaching styles better than others. 

I’d like to suggest to you some styles of instruction I find most helpful, and others that have been ineffective in helping me learn. I’m available for any questions you may have after reading this list. Just ask me to meet after class to set up a time for a discussion. Thank you for your consideration. 

Teaching strategies known to be effective:

  • I understand and complete assignments most successfully when they contain (a) concrete instructions regarding the assignment itself, (b) explanations regarding how to complete the process of the assignment (especially if the assignment involves several steps) and (c) a definite deadline for completion. 
  • I learn best through visual instruction, such as the use of PowerPoint lectures, the use of a Smart board, through films and experiments, etc. 
  • I may appear shy, but I’m typically very focused on the lecture. 
  • Sitting near the front of the class has been helpful to me in the past.

Strategies that have not been successful:

  • Assignments or instructions that are open-ended, or that require significant personal interpretation in terms of content have generally not been met with success.
  • The use of subtle humor or subtle body language as a teaching tool will most likely not be effective in helping me understand information or a point of lecture. Because I have significant difficulty recognizing and understanding abstract language and social communication, this method of instruction may be lost on me.
  • The transition between classes may cause some anxiety for me, so short periods at the beginning and end of a lecture may be challenging. I may miss important information provided during those times. If I start to leave class a few moments early, a simple hand gesture may help remind me to stay.

Requested accommodations: 

  • Due to challenges with stress, anxiety and distraction, I may request permission to take tests alone in a quiet room, and have a graduate student proctor the exam for me.
  • I may request extended test taking time, and additional time to develop lengthy written assignments.
  • I may request assistance with note-taking, or permission to audio-tape lectures when appropriate.

by Marc Ellison

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Marc Ellison, Ed.D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and an approved Licensed Professional supervisor (ALPS) who has worked nearly 30 years to provide person-centered support, services and advocacy to individuals who live with autism spectrum disorders, their families and those who support them. He has supported individuals with ASD throughout their lifespan, as they moved to the community from state-supported institutions, searched for and obtained employment, entered into relationships, and transitioned into college. Dr. Ellison is the Executive Director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center, and a part-time professor at Marshall University.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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