Accommodations are not Rewards

Disability accommodations are among the most important factors in allowing autistic and other neurodivergent people to equally access an education. “Equally access” here is the key phrase, because the entire purpose of accommodations for a disability at an academic institution is to ensure the same opportunity for all students to access an education (and the world generally), and this right to equal access is legally guaranteed in many countries around the world. Despite this, however, many people have difficulty receiving accommodations that they need and it is commonplace to have to fight a school or university for equal access.

One common way that accommodations are denied, in particular to autistic people and other neurodiverse people, is by mistaking accommodations for privileges, or something that needs to be earned. For example, it might be put into place that “Little Johnny Autie can access his chewable jewelry only after has met goal X,” which completely disregards the entire purpose of accommodations (and also that’s not how stimming works). A valid accommodation is not something that should be earned, and they certainly shouldn’t have to be earned.

Closeup of a person wearing a blue long-sleeved shirt writing on a white sheet of paper with a black pin. Image labeled for fair use.

An accommodation should be available at all applicable and reasonable times, as if this is not the case than it is no longer an accommodation, it is a privilege. In many places, education is at the very least treated as a de-facto right, as is the purpose behind the existence of taxpayer funded public schools, and so if accommodations which allow equal access to an education are themselves treated as privileges, than for the students who need these accommodations access to an education then becomes a privilege rather than a right like it is for everyone else. That would therefore be discrimination.

Another common way that accommodations are denied to autistic students is via the reasoning that “oh, well they function so well, so they should just be able to figure it out without needing accommodations.” This is , for one thing, one of several reasons why functioning labels are harmful to autistic people, and also ignores the very nature of invisible disabilities, namely that they’re not entirely visible and so you can’t gauge what support someone needs by just going on what they “look like.” If an accommodation is needed to ensure equal access, it needs to be available at all applicable times and regardless of a student’s academic abilities. As well, accommodations are often removed after a student seems to meet a certain set of “goals,” however this ignores the fact that the student’s ability to function is likely tied to the supports that they have been receiving. It is OK to need support, just as it is OK for people with mobility impairments to use wheelchairs and for blind people to use a cane for navigation. The goal should never be to remove supports, or deny supports because of apparent “progress.”

The frequent denial of accommodations or the treatment of accommodations as if they are some kind of reward is a huge barrier to education for many autistic people. So here’s what you can do.

For self advocates: play an active role in deciding what accommodations you need in order for you to succeed, and don’t be afraid to be stubborn and speak out if your accommodations plan is being ignored, or if you’re having difficulty obtaining necessary accommodations at all. It is your right to have equal access to an education.

For parents/guardians: Make sure you carefully monitor how your child’s accommodation plan is in place. Check in regularly with teachers, school administrators, and your child about how an accommodation plan is being followed. And remember that accommodations are not a “sign of weakness,” they are often necessary even for people deemed academically gifted, and accommodations are never rewards or privileges.

For teachers and administrators: All you need to do is remember the title of this article: accommodations are not rewards. Don’t use them as rewards. You wouldn’t take away a student’s wheelchair until they met a specific goal would you? Same reasoning applies here.

Short, simple, to the point I hope. Stop treating access to accommodations like rewards or privileges, and stand up against this practice if you see it in the classroom.

Addendum from Randall Therapy & Wellness on accommodations as a “crutch”: “Also, accommodations aren’t something to take away after a student makes progress or masters an IEP goal. I sometimes hear teachers ask how soon the accommodation can be removed to “see how they do without it,” so it doesn’t become a “crutch.” Accommodations aren’t “crutches.” This type of thinking is rooted in ableism. It’s okay to accomplish things differently and with support. The goal should not be to remove the accommodation when progress is made, but instead, to accept differences of neurodivergent students and give them equal access to education as long as they need it.”

7 thoughts on “Accommodations are not Rewards

    1. Hi! I’m not sure, and I’m very sorry about that. Probably a WordPress glitch. However, you can put in your email address and receive notifications of new posts this way. Check the side bar (or the footer on mobile).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Well said! If a student decides they no longer want or need such an accommodation, well, that’s their right, but if they decide they want it reinstated, it should be reinstated without question or hesitation. And it should ONLY ever be at the student’s initiation, not the teacher’s. This also reveals what is wrong with ABA, as a practice. Saying to a child “If you eat all your dinner, you can have some dessert,” is offering a reward, but it could also be reduced to, “If you have a spoonful of a particular food, you can have dessert.”

    Liked by 3 people

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