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Students with Psychological Impairments

"Invisible Disabilities" such as psychological or psychiatric disabilities can be tremendously challenging for students. Since their condition is not necessarily obvious, it can be difficult for peers and faculty to understand why a student may be having difficulty functioning socially or academically. Students are sometimes reluctant to seek support from the Student Disability Service or other offices on campus for fear of being stigmatized. They may worry that others will view their troubles as simply a matter of weakness or a lack of discipline. They also may not realize that they might qualify for accommodations under federal disability law.

When students do identify themselves to the Student Disability Service and qualify for accommodations, we work closely with them to identify reasonable accommodations that will be helpful without altering fundamental course requirements. Given the wide range of psychological conditions, it is difficult to generalize about which accommodations are going to be most effective for any particular student. Students may be coping with diagnosed anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorders. These conditions (and sometimes the medication used to treat the conditions) can lead to difficulties with attention and concentration, extreme worry, excessive fatigue, excessive energy and difficulties regulating emotions. Students' symptoms may vary from day to day. 

Common Types of Accommodations

  • Extended time testing; separate distraction reduced testing environment.
  • Short term extensions on assignments. (*Note:  The Student Disability Service typically recommends a boundaried extension, e.g., 2-3 days in order to avoid vague due dates and conflicts with other course projects.)
  • Ability to leave classroom for short breaks.
  • Possible excused absences if condition flairs. (*If a student can benefit from this type of accommodation, we will collaborate with you and the student in advance to identify a clear policy on absences so as not to alter fundamental course requirements. 
  • If a student discloses a psychological disability to you, please avoid asking the student to share details of the disability.  Many students are not comfortable sharing clinical information. If a student has registered with the Student Disability Service, the student will have an accommodations letter that outlines the reasonable accommodations. We are not able to share any clinical information unless the student has given us explicit written permission. 
  • If a student has not yet registered with the Student Disability Service and is expressing an interest in accommodations, please encourage them to contact our office to learn more about the accommodations process.

Student Disclosure

If a student identifies to you as having a disability and expresses a need for accommodations, please ask whether the student has also registered with the Student Disability Service so that we can draft formal accommodations letters. We recommend that you schedule an individual meeting with the student so that the two of you can identify accommodations that will enable the student to access the course material without altering fundamental course requirements. We have found that even when multiple students have the same disability, each student often benefits from different strategies for accessing the material.

Privacy Note

Swarthmore College respects the privacy of its students.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act governs all student record information.

Additional Resource


Swarthmore College respects the privacy of its students.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs all student record information.