The 10 Most Common Accommodations Found on a Special Education IEP

When a student with a disability has an individualized education program (IEP), they can learn and engage better with their school environment. For that to happen, the IEP often includes various accommodations to help them process information, feel more comfortable, and achieve curriculum goals.

Accommodations look different for each student. Some children need to minimize distractions in the classroom whereas others need alternate ways to receive their information. In this guide, I’ll talk more about the 10 most common accommodations found in an IEP and how they can help students with disabilities and improve their school experience.

What To Look For in an IEP

  • What Are IEP Accommodations?
  • Types of Accommodations
  • 10 Most Common Accommodations in an IEP
  • 1. Alternate Instruction Format
  • 2. Using Digital Tools
  • 3. Testing Accommodations
  • 4. Additional Resources in Class
  • 5. Preferred Seating
  • 6. Extra Time for Assignments
  • 7. Alternate Assignments
  • 8. Sensory Tools
  • 9. Outlines, Notetakers, and Recordings
  • 10. Environmental Accommodations

What are IEP Accommodations?

Accommodations in a special education IEP are tools and changes made to help a student learn better. They adjust the process the student uses to complete the assignment without changing what the assignment is.

It’s important here to note that accommodations are different from modifications. Modifications do change the task the child does. For example, an accommodation may change the environment or the amount of time a student gets to complete their work. However, they must still complete the assignment. A modification, on the other hand, changes the assignment, so the student might have an altered curriculum with unique goals.

Accommodations are just one way that an IEP works to adapt the curriculum to the student’s needs. They play to the student’s strengths and improve their ability to learn the material along with their peers.

Types of Accommodations

Not all accommodations work the same way. In considering what accommodations for a child, consider where they need help at school and what would improve their learning experience.

Accommodations are broken down into several categories:

  • Presentation: Changes the way information is offered to the student
  • Response: Changes the way students complete assignments
  • Environment: Adjusts the setting where students complete certain assignments
  • Timing: Adjusts the time allowed for students to complete assignments
  • Organization: Uses tools to help the student manage time and assignments

Not all students need every accommodation. Some only need presentation accommodations, for example, while others may require a few different ones to meet their learning needs. The goal of an IEP is to use the ones that benefit the child most.

10 Most Common Accommodations in an IEP

Among the many types of accommodations, some are more commonly used in special education IEPs than others. Here, I talk about what these accommodations are, how they look in the classroom, and how they can benefit your child or student.

1. Alternative Instruction Format

Sometimes, hearing a lesson in class alone doesn’t get the information across to the student. Whether a student is deaf, has an auditory processing disability, or ADHD they may need the information to be available in a different format.

Alternative instruction takes many forms. The one used will depend on how the child processes information best and what tools help them do that more successfully.

A student might benefit from recording the lessons rather than taking notes. Visuals, like charts, drawings, diagrams, and similar tools, can help a student make connections in the material that an explanation alone wouldn’t have allowed them to do. 

Other times, a student might struggle to process written instructions. Here, it might help for a designated reader to read the questions on assignments out loud to the student. Sometimes, it’s as simple as using large print or fewer questions on the page to help them process the information.

It’s a good idea to learn more about what the individual student finds most helpful.

2. Using Digital Tools

Digital tools let students record lessons or take notes in a format that’s more accessible to them. They also help students with spelling, math, and other subjects.

Students who need some extra help with spelling might benefit from a digital spellchecker. In math, a calculator can help them complete tests or learn math facts. A word processor can also help them with taking notes or writing answers for tests and assignments.

Digital tools can also help with absorbing material and reading. The IEP might allow the student to listen to audiobooks or view certain material based on how their disability affects their learning and how they receive information.

3. Testing Accommodations

Sometimes, students with disabilities have trouble completing tests in the regular classroom. To help with these issues, the student might take the test in a different room or in a small group to minimize distractions and stressors.

Some students need to take their tests at a specific time of day or in multiple smaller sittings to concentrate better and do their best work. They may also take tests with the exam sections in a different order that helps them comprehend the questions in a way that matches their thinking and learning abilities.

4. Taking Breaks

Some students concentrate and learn better when they have time built into their days to take breaks. Breaks allow these students to transition into another activity throughout the day.

The need for breaks can vary not only between students but for different assignments and tests. For example, a short quiz might not require a break, but a student may need them for a longer exam.

Students might take their test in another room so that their breaks don’t disrupt other students’ test taking. This can also help if the student gets distracted by classmates who complete their tests or assignments at a different speed.

5. Preferential Seating

A student’s placement in the classroom can impact their learning. In these situations, their IEP might state that the student should sit in a specific area of the room to help them engage in class.

Preferential seating lets a student learn from wherever benefits their education most within the classroom. Preferential seating may involve seating students away from classmates who tend to talk or windows where they may get distracted by people or events outside.

It can also help students with visual impairments see the teacher better to sit near the front of the room. Students with hearing impairments may also hear better when seated closer to the teacher.

6. Extra Time for Assignments

Some students have disabilities that make it difficult for them to complete a test or assignment in the same amount of time allotted for other students. This is usually referred to as extended time in the student’s IEP.

This accommodation is typically given in one continuous session. For example, if a test or assignment has a 60-minute limit and the student is given 30 minutes longer, those 30 minutes must be added to the original 60-minute time limit.

Students might need extra time for many reasons. Some students need the time to process questions and instructions. Others may have a disability that limits their dexterity or other physical ability.

7. Study Skills Instruction

Study skills encompasses many different organizational skills that can help a student manage time, assignments, and other parts of school. Sometimes, a study skills instructor can help them learn to manage these things on their own over time.

With study skills instruction, the student may learn how to effectively use a planner, alarms, and other materials that help them organize better. Receiving specific instruction for study skills can help a student achieve academic goals by keeping materials organized and learning productive habits.

A study skills coach can help the student learn to use various exercises to improve their organizational skills. It can also help the student learn how to use their personal strengths to study and meet their goals.

8. Sensory Tools

Students with disabilities sometimes need sensory tools to help them focus or regulate behavior while in class. Since different students have different disabilities and sensory needs, their tools will vary widely, too.

Some sensory tools that can help students moderate behavior and learn better include:

  • Fidget tools
  • Noise-muffling headphones
  • Wiggle cushion
  • Weighted lap pad or vest
  • Chewable items
  • A band attached to chair legs that the student can kick

There are many more options to help students self-regulate. It can sometimes help to create an agreement with the student about how certain sensory items, like fidget toys, should be used in the classroom.

9. Outlines, Notetakers, and Recordings

Not all students with disabilities can take notes during class on their own. To help them get these types of materials for studying later, they may need a modified version of notes or help with writing them.

An outline or lesson notes can help a student follow along with the lesson. These tools give them a way to prepare for the lesson and know what to expect. That can help them engage better with the material and aid their information processing.

If a student can’t take notes by hand, it can help to have a designated notetaker. That person can be an aid or another student who takes high-quality notes the student can use to study later.

Recordings can help with note taking in an auditory format. For students who are blind or visually impaired, recording lessons lets them study the material later.

10. Environmental Accommodations

Environmental accommodations go beyond when a student takes a test. They might do their work in a quiet room or small group, or the IEP might accommodate their sensory needs through their learning environment.

A student may learn in a room with lighting or acoustics that allow them to communicate, understand, and process better. These accommodations can remove some communication barriers for deaf or hard of hearing students, for example, who have trouble communicating in the dark or in loud environments.


Accommodations on special education IEPs aren’t limited to what I’ve talked about here. Students might require variations of these or something completely different for their personal educational needs. The IEP team should work with the student to find the best solution for them.

I hope this guide helped you understand IEP accommodations and their role for students with disabilities. If you have questions or comments leave them below or send me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

Want to get in touch?

I'm happy to help however I can. Email me at hello at behaviorist .com.

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