Students with Cognitive Disabilities (Memory, Processing Speed, Attention, Focus, Impulsivity)


Cognitive disabilities can include having significant impairment(s) in cognitive functioning associated with limitations in learning, and adaptive behavior. 


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, global developmental delay, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, acquired brain injury, oppositional defiant disorder 

Instructional Accommodation Examples

  • Provide instructions in the form most appropriate to the student’s cognitive level, such as using shortened phrases, visuals, or signals/signs (e.g., “drop ball”, “come here”, “use two hands”). 
  • Use prompting techniques to vary verbal and non-verbal communication in instructions and fade prompts with success (e.g., gesture by pointing to where the object needs to be sent and pair verbal instructions with a visual to throw the object into a basket). 
  • Use peer modeling to increase participation and social interactions amongst peers (e.g., establish a “buddy system”). 
  • Use chunking techniques to start with single, realistic tasks and gradually add multiple steps (e.g., break down tasks into steps, practice each step in isolation and then put the steps together). 
  • Provide opportunities for small group instruction before moving to whole group activities. 
  • Use highly structured activities to keep the student attentive (e.g., activities that have a determined endpoint and outcome, use of a visual schedule board for the student to know the order of the activities in the lesson). 
  • Use a reinforcement system to maintain student engagement (e.g., a token system can be used to reward the student with access to a preferred item or task). 

Environmental Accommodation Examples

  • Remove physical barriers within the playing area to promote a flow of movement (e.g., unused pieces of equipment within the playing area). 
  • Reduce sound and visual distractions (e.g., offer noise-cancelling headphones). 
  • Provide visuals in the learning space to enhance understanding of instructions and create a flow (e.g., schedule board, anchor charts). 
  • Design a learning environment that allows for the student to practice skills, concepts, and strategies in different ways (e.g., when teaching a specific skill, use centres where the skill can be practiced in different ways with different equipment). 
  • Provide flexible seating and/or standing (e.g., sit/stand spots, foam mats during whole group teaching to encourage the student to stay seated with the group). 

Assessment Accommodation Examples

  • Share the student-specific learning goals that are being assessed and co-create to the success criteria (e.g., allowing the student to choose equipment that works best for them to demonstrate the task). 
  • Provide multiple opportunities for the student to demonstrate the skill in different ways (e.g., take a picture of someone who is demonstrating the learning goal, have the student describe how they can best execute the skill). 
  • Provide a range of tasks related to the learning goal(s) that are being assessed (e.g., set up mini-games within the learning space that the student can rotate through to help maintain their attention). 
  • Allow for more time to complete assessment tasks. 

Learn more about supporting students with cognitive disabilities (memory, processing speed, attention, focus, impulsivity):