Educational Accommodations for Students With Behavioral Challenges: A Systematic Review of the Literature

Issue/Topic: Special Education
Author(s): Harrison, Judith; Bunford, Nora; Evans, Steven; Owens, Julie
Publication: Review of Educational Research
Published On: 9/10/2013

Students with emotional behavior disorders (EBDs) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to perform below grade level in core subjects and to exhibit disruptive classroom behaviors. Educational policies mandate that schools consider and use accommodations for students with disabilities to assist them in meeting educational goals, but there is little clarity on how accommodations are defined and policies and literature provide little guidance on implementing them.

To review the effectiveness of accommodations for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBDs) and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to help current practice in schools. The authors also saw a need for a consensus definition of accommodation, intervention, and modification.

  • Experts in the field recommend many accommodations, yet few of them are proven effective through scientific research and study. Research in this area is minimal and considerably more is needed. In addition, research in this area is usually based on very small samples with limited diversity, and too few studies conclude that any of the accommodations have an effect. For example, of the 12 potential types of accommodations reviewed across all studies, only 4 were evaluated in more than one study, and only 5 of the 12 were evaluated with more than 10 participants.

  • The authors found minimal evidence that some strategies might help a few students improve behavior. However, there is little evidence that these strategies are more effective for children with EBDs and ADHD than other students. These strategies seem to represent good teaching for all children and could be included in the best practices expected from all teachers.

  • Educators and researchers recommend many types of accommodations for youth with EBDs and ADHD. However, there little or no evidence of their effectiveness. Very few accommodations evaluated actually meet all criteria in the authors’ definition of accommodation. Due to the limited nature of the research available, the authors could not find much evidence supporting the effectiveness of commonly recommended accommodations.

  • The authors expressed concern that general and special education teachers are being encouraged to provide accommodations, but they may miss the intervention that could reduce the impairment that comes with the child’s disability. For example, teachers can provide an accommodation of recorded books and tests to benefit a student with a reading deficiency. What is missing is a remedial reading intervention to help improve the student’s reading until the accommodation is no longer needed.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • Standard definitions of the terms accommodations, interventions, and modifications are needed because there is confusion in research and practice on what these terms mean and how they are applied. According to the authors, their study is the first attempt in research at clearly defining these terms and they encourage researchers and educators to adopt these terms.

  • There is a great deal of research still needed in this area, and research needs to be expanded in scope and diversity. The authors make several suggestions for future research in the area.

  • While some accommodation strategies could be effective for all students, and the authors suggest that educators could adopt them into the general curriculum, no evidence was found to indicate that any specific accommodation strategies are effective for students with EBDs and ADHD.

Research Design:
Systematic literature review of research about accommodation strategies used to address learning or behavioral impairments associated with EBDs or ADHD

Studies and literature about strategies for accommodating children with EBDs or ADHD

Year data is from:
Not specified


Data Collection and Analysis:
First, the authors reviewed applicable literature accommodations for children with EBDs and ADHD and created their own definition of accommodation. Second, they conducted a literature review to identify studies that assessed the effectiveness of accommodations for children with EBDs or ADHD, then evaluated the effectiveness of these strategies.


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