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Teaching Strategies for Students with Episodic or Mental Health Conditions

This information is available to download in a word document - Teaching Strategies for Students with Mental Illness or Episodic Conditions.

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Episodic Conditions

Ongoing episodic disabilities are long term conditions which have fluctuating periods of poor health and deterioration/ relapse whilst the person generally maintains a level of functionality. Examples of episodic conditions include:

  • Mental Health Conditions
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Back injuries
  • Severe Migraines

Medical Certificates

Medical certificates may not always be sought for each episode. Students with episodic conditions and ongoing treatment programs who have registered with Disability Services should not be required to produce a medical certificate for each absence or late submission of assessment.

Compulsory Attendance Requirements

Compulsory attendance requirements cannot be strictly applied to students with ongoing episodic conditions. Please provide study/course materials for classes missed. It is to be expected that students with episodic conditions will be unpredictably absent from class on occasion.

Flexible Delivery

Flexible delivery can overcome some access barriers if the lecture or class material can be presented in the form of subject notes, lectopia recordings, or digital media, with copies of any visual presentations e.g. overheads.

Crisis Management

As with any student, emergency situations can arise. It is wise to ensure that staff are familiar with any emergency plan developed by the Disability Liaison Officer in consultation with the particular client. Emergency plans include clear procedures and relevant emergency contact numbers. Plans are available from Disability Services for 'at risk' students.

If you are concerned about a student's welfare, notify Disability Services and schedule a case management-type meeting to discuss strategies and allocate a contact teacher to monitor their progress.

Managing the Workload

If a student misses extended periods of their course work they may need to withdraw from a subject to concentrate their efforts on salvaging their other subjects. Students may need directions on how to apply for remission of course fees.


Turoring can be arranged through Disability Services to assist the student to catch up with course work.

Mental Health Problems

Mental health problems are regarded as the most disabling medical condition, yet least understood in tertiary education. The term encapsulates a range of often hidden disorders grouped into three broad areas:

Conduct: behavioural disorders, distractibility, impulsivity
Feeling: anxiety, panic or phobias
Thinking: schizophrenias or bi-polar disorders

Strategies for episodes of mental illness:

  • Stay positive, consistent and understanding
  • When possible, ignore inappropriate or odd behaviour and encourage others to do the same
  • Specify required behaviour for class participation and reinforce appropriate behaviours
  • Negotiate strategies, such as asking an interruptive student to write their questions down and direct them to a teacher after the class
  • Encourage students to work in quiet locations
  • Eliminate physical or sensory stimuli which may be causing a problem
  • If possible, try to relocate the person to an area where there are fewer onlookers

Communicating with students with mental illness:

  • Use clear and straightforward language
  • Check that the person understands by asking them
  • Repeat in different words if necessary
  • Take seriously the emotional concerns the person is presenting
  • Recognise stress and help the person to calm down
  • Be clear about the function or role of your service
  • If a request is beyond your control, ask the person how you can best help

Alternative Assessment Arrangements

Alternative assessment arrangements for students vary according to the nature and impact of the condition upon the student's ability to study. After assessing the impact, Disability Services will notify teachers to recommend alternatives or 'reasonable adjustments' that accommodate the student's needs while maintaining the integrity of the course. This may involve re-scheduling a test, allowing reasonable extensions on assignments (to be negotiated on a needs basis), or allowing extra time for reading and/or writing in exams.

Course Selection

Program co-ordinators should discuss with the Disability Liaison Officer, Case Manager and/or student whether the student is ready to enter the course. These meetings may inform students about different courses available and alternative course delivery. Initial interviews may need to advise the student to take part-time or lower level course and progress through course levels with achievement of outcomes at each progressive level.