Academic Support Strategies

Academic support strategies are frequently necessary, and they are based on each student’s symptoms.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves having the student work through OCD symptoms to overcome difficulties related to writing and rewriting or checking and rechecking. But until a child or adolescent reaches that point, accommodations and supports may be necessary to help them function in school. For example, within the context of cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, a student may have a goal of reading a paragraph without counting the periods at the end of each sentence. Until he or she is able to achieve that, it may be necessary to have another student read the text read aloud or have the student listen to a prerecorded version.

It may be helpful for school personnel to share ideas and resources that have been used successfully. It is also essential to speak directly with the student about strategies that have helped academically. Students may have developed their own strategies that can be implemented easily in the classroom. Information from the student's parents and therapist can also be critical in developing academic support strategies.

Flexibility is important. Academic accommodations and supports may be needed when symptoms worsen, but they can be set aside when the symptoms subside. School personnel should also be prepared to change the type of accommodations based on the specific difficulty a student may be having at the time.

Try these academic accommodations and support strategies for specific OCD-related experiences.

Fears of contamination

  • Allow the student to receive handouts first and hand the stack to another student to avoid contact with papers touched by others.
  • Provide a separate set of classroom materials to avoid having to share with others, especially during group activities. Provide a separate set of books to use at home if the student fears bringing contaminated materials home.
  • Avoid having the student first in line to leave the room to having to touch the doorknob or handle.
  • Allow the student to leave class a few minutes early to avoid crowded hallways. Arrange a private signal to indicate when the student may leave.
  • Work with the student to reduce frequent trips to the restroom. Set a reasonable limit and gradually reduce the number. The teacher, school mental health professional (school psychologist or social worker), parents, and student should all work together to develop this intervention.
  • Allow the use of hand sanitizer in lieu of constantly washing hands.

Difficulty concentrating or focusing

  • Ask the student to choose a code word or signal for you to redirect attention.
  • Seat the student closer to teacher’s desk.
  • Provide notes or an outline of what is covered in class.
  • Give clear and concise instructions, and use visuals when possible. Capture students' attention by giving a signal: Tell students to listen carefully, modulate your voice, or clap hands.

Difficulty with writing slowly

  • Assign less written homework.
  • Refrain from sending home incomplete classwork because it can create additional stress.
  • Allow the student to use a computer to type assignments.
  • Allow the student to record a class assignment with a phone or other device.
  • Provide a written outline of the lecture.
  • Permit the student to print if cursive writing presents a problem.
  • Allow the student to dictate writing assignments or answers to someone else.
  • Select a classmate or allow the student to choose a volunteer to share notes or review classwork related to homework. .
  • If appropriate to the assignment, permit the student to demonstrate knowledge by drawing a picture or creating a mural in lieu of writing an essay.

Difficulty with reading

  • Allow a peer, paraprofessional, or other person to read to the student unless this causes discomfort.
  • Divide reading assignments into shorter segments and allow breaks in between.

Difficulty organizing materials and time

  • Help the student develop organizational skills; confer with appropriate school personnel if necessary.
  • Have the student use an assignment book that parents and teachers check daily and make written comments to promote communication.
  • Use color-coded folders or other visual organizing systems.

Difficulty with long assignments and long-term projects

  • Use charts, outlines, and other graphic organizers to provide cues for completing the assignment.
  • Show how to break long assignments into smaller sections, such as researching the topic; writing an outline; making the display. For a book report: reading the book; outlining important points; writing first and final drafts. For a science project: topic selection; explanation of the approach; researching the topic; writing an outline of what the display will cover; making the display.  
  • Establish limits on the amount of time to spend on a project; enlist the parents to help.
  • Have the student set up a notebook to communicate with parents about progress or specific assignments; parents can also write notes for the teacher.

Difficulty taking notes

  • Give direct instruction in how to take notes. Discover note-taking systems here*.
  • Provide partial notes that contain the main ideas of the lecture; leave space for the student to write additional notes.
  • Allow the student to review other students’ good notes .

Difficulty studying

  • Suggest that the student study with a partner or in groups.
  • Encourage the student to spread studying for a test over a period of time rather than the night before.
  • Teach students strategies mnemonic devices to aid memorization; for example, acronyms: HOMES to remember all the great lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior); or acrostics (the first letter of each word in a sentence): All cows eat grass" to remember ACEG for the spaces in the musical bass clef.

Checking and rechecking

  • Allow the student to use spell check to limit the number of times words are checked.
  • Suggest that the student use a calculator to check math answers one time after completing an assignment or test.
  • Work with parents to provide one set of materials and books for school and one for home.
  • Make duplicate assignment sheets for school and home.
  • Allow the student a set time to organize school materials to reduce anxiety.
  • Discreetly check the student’s book bag or have a paraprofessional to make sure the correct assignment sheets are going home. Create a form listing materials that need to go home or stay at school.

Repeatedly seeking reassurance and asking questions

  • Answer questions, but avoid answering the same question repeatedly. Limit the number of questions that the student can ask per class period, per assignment, or per day. Determine the number of questions asked to set a reasonable limit, and gradually reduce the number. The teacher, school psychologist or social worker, parents, and student should work together to develop this intervention.
  • Difficulty taking tests
  • Encourage the student to skip troublesome questions to try to answer later.
  • Give the student untimed tests, extra time to complete the test, or require the student to answer only certain questions (identified with an asterisk, or every other question, etc.) if time limits trigger anxiety.
  • Place the student in a quiet location if distraction is a problem.
  • Provide breaks during testing.
  • Allow an alternative method for producing test answers if writing is problematic:  record answers on a mobile device; give answers orally; produce answers in multiple choice, short answer, or fill-in-the-blanks in lieu of essays.
  • Assign fewer questions on a test or allow the student to write the answers to every other question.
  • Allow the student to write answers directly on test sheet or booklet if filling in circles is a problem. You may transfer the responses to a computerized answer sheet.

Difficulty making decisions

  • Assign a book, topic, or theme, rather than asking the student to select it.
  • Give the student a choice of two topics or items to choose from.

*NOTE: ADAA does not endorse specific programs; these are examples for your information.



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