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Design tips for SLD/Cognitive/Autism

What design and usage tips do people have for working with intermediate students with learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, and autism spectrum disorders?

6 Replies
Community Member

This is also an interest of mine. It is a very new area, so while there is a W3C working group looking at this, they have not posted recommendations yet, but from my experience (I work in online higher ed accessibility and have children with learning disorders), these students are helped by things that help all students:

  • Clear assignment instructions, expectations, and due dates
  • Graphical organizer
  • Note taking assistance or tools
  • Captioned videos (helps with focus),
  • Video transcripts to help with note taking
  • Consistent organization of content, consistent navigation
  • Chunked content with good heading structure
  • Larger assignments broken down into smaller parts with opportunities for feedback during the process
  • Books provided electronically with visual highlighting (or Kurzweil) and/or books that can also be audio files
  • Aids for organizing thoughts for writing assignments, study aids, and when possible the option to choose a topic of interest as part of the assignment.
  • Extra time to complete assignments.

I would love to hear from others who may know more about this.

Community Contributor

This is such an important age for building on their strengths.   In my humble opinion, this is when some students learn that not much is expected from them and as long as they behave themselves they'll "pass," but ... they don't really understand what's happening, because the teacher doesn't have the resources to facilitate that (not because they can't).  

So all of the above are excellent starting points, but so much depends on how it's implemented!    I'd add lots of feedback on the positives, and encouraging the students to learn what *works* for them for learning, not just surviving. 

Design things to be 'adaptive' so that students who need more practice and more time spent with more concrete materials with more pictures, etc.  can have that. has lots of info and resources.   CAST: Free Learning Tools    has some guidelines regarding providing alternatives for representation (presenting the information and getting students engaged wtih it),  action and expression, and engagement (including assessment and the learning outcomes).  Here's a presentation that has some ideas: Universal Design for Learning: A framework for access and equity

Math is one area where I think there's an incredible opportunity and need for more visuals and more concept development.   I'd love to find a group trying to really develop good materials...  not as an  afterthought.  


Great points. I do think UDL is the best approach for these students and everyone else. And CAST has great resources.

A few comments on a great posting!

  1. Your suggestions are relevant and applicable to all students (except perhaps "extra time" for assignments), whether they have a documented disability or not. Some individuals have quirky, undiagnosed disorders that interfere with their learning, and other, "neurotypical" students also benefit from the approaches you list above. We should be designing courses this way anyway! Applying UDL principles helps everyone and "harms" no one, except perhaps for the course designer, who should be allowed more time for thoughtful planning and development, especially for meaningful assessments.
  2. Also important is adaptiveness. Preassessments, feedback, and carefully scaffolded lessons or chunks should allow students to demonstrate their mastery and allow them to "test out" and advance to new concepts when they are ready. We need to move beyond the one-size-fits-all approach.
  3. As designers, we often neglect motivation and attitude as outcomes. Don't we want students instilled with a growth mindset" and a readiness to be life-long learners?

Great discussion!  Here is an updated link for the CAST: Free Learning Tools

Thanks for sharing that resource. I also really like the UDL Graphical organizer.