Success Characteristic #2

Characteristic #2 – Learning Compensatory Strategies

            Compensatory strategies, also known as “work arounds” or my favorite, “learned creativity”[1], involve completing a task in a way that utilizes a student’s strengths instead of having the task impacted by the student’s weaknesses or areas of disability. Accommodations fall into this category. For example, if you have difficulty taking notes in class and utilize a peer notetaker that is a compensatory strategy which allows you to get the information from class that your peers are but that you cannot do as effectively in the traditional way of taking your own notes.

            If you have had your disability for a longer period of time, you probably have developed several compensatory strategies through the years – either those taught to you by parents and teachers (or maybe even your peers) or those you have learned on your own from experience. Some of these you may continue to use successfully in college while in other situations you find in college, you may need to learn new ways to compensate. If your disability is relatively new to you, you also may need to learn new strategies to get tasks done than in the ways you have done them in the past.

            Another example of a critical skill that some students with disabilities must learn compensatory strategies for is time management. Some students with hidden disabilities, such as learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or depression, need tools to help them manage their time as they have difficulty doing this on their own due to the impact of their disability. Some examples of these tools are online calendars (like Google Calendar), alarms that can be set from watches or iPhones ahead of meeting times and monthly calendars (large or small) where due dates and important appointment dates can be marked.

            How do you know what compensatory strategies you need and what will work for you? Trial and error is a good approach to try certain strategies to see how they will work for you.  Also, talking with your DRES case manager and other students are good sources of information and support. Once you realize that you can complete a task, even if it is done in a nontraditional or “creative” way, you begin to have the confidence you need to allow yourself to be creative in finding solutions to what you are trying to accomplish. Rather than being negative, utilizing compensatory strategies can be quite empowering.   


[1] Reiff, Henry B., Paul J. Gerber and Rick Ginsberg. (1997). Exceeding Expectations: Successful Adults with Learning Disabilities, pp. 182-186.