Accommodations are something provided by law to people with disabilities. It is easy for people to understand physical accommodations such as wheelchairs and curb cuts. It is much more difficult for people to understand accommodations when it involves sensory and processing differences such as those common to autistic people.
Because an autism diagnosis is one of a spectrum diagnosis there are a variety of ways autistic people experience their particular autism. In fact, even though there may be similarities, just as no two neuro majority people experience the world in exactly the same way, so to is it that no two autistic people experience the world in exactly the same way. This makes it challenging because the necessary accommodations for one autistic will not be the same for the next autistic. While one curb cut will accommodate all wheelchairs, one neurological “curb cut” will not accommodate all autistic who have different neurological “curb cut” needs.
Accommodations and Public School Students
When autistic children attend U.S. public schools the law requires the school to make the necessary accommodations for students with IEPs (Individual Education Plans) to enable them to receive a free and appropriate education as defined by law. Even though it may be hard work for you to support your student with autism by providing these accommodations, please remember that your student is likely working at least as hard, if not harder than you, when it comes to accommodations. After all, they are continually busy doing the best they can to accommodate others in a world that does not interface easily their autism. And yes, I do understand you think autism is hard. You are right. Autism can be very hard.
Sensory breaks are often used as an accommodation in a public school setting. This is because an autistic neurology does not automatically regulate the sensory system. Sometimes sensory breaks are comprised of activities that give specific sensory input to balance out the sensory system in the moment. Other times the sensory break needs to ensure guarding against any more sensory input as the body needs a quiet time and space to allow for integration of the too much sensory information already there. Rather than sensory input, this means a quiet sensory guarding break.
A frequent mistake made when teachers give students sensory breaks is they then spend the break time talking to the student. Please respect the downtime or break time you give us as an accommodation. Many people do not understand how much work it can be for autistics to accommodate the talking of neurotypicals. When you talk to us during our down time it negates the accommodation you are attempting to make for us.
Our down time or sensory guarding breaks truly need to be a time away from the continual demands placed on us of accommodating a neuro majority world. This allows our system to regroup so to speak – which means we can then go back and better cope with the neuro majority environment that is most often experienced as too loud, too fast and too complex to allow real time integration of the felt experience of a daily ongoing sensory bombardment.
Accommodations After High School
Another aspect to accommodations is the idea that students need to learn about their accommodations. During school years in the U.S. teachers and other adults are responsible for providing accommodations. Once our special education students reach 18 or 21 they exit the public school system. In the adult world the law is a bit different. It does not require others to be responsible for the accommodation needs of a person with any disability, but instead puts the onus on the person with the disability. Let me explain what I mean by that statement.
- Further Education
If an individual goes on to attend a technical school or university there is no IEP. What typically happens is that the student must disclose his disability and ask for the accommodations he needs. This means a student coming out of high school must understand what he needs in order to succeed in a neuro majority educational environment. In addition, he needs to know how to clearly state his need and ask for the accommodation.
And, it doesn’t stop there. What usually happens in response to an accommodation request is the student is given information that he must then use to obtain his accommodation. One student I worked with needed a note taker. He was given a printed list of students who had expressed interest in being note takers. Each student’s contact information was included. For some it was an email address and for others it was a phone number. My student with the disability was expected to take this list and arrange for his accommodation.
If an individual gets a job, again, accommodations work out differently than they do in high school where teachers are responsible for giving the accommodations to the student. In the workplace, to receive accommodations for an existing disability that disability must be disclosed during the hiring process. If a job applicant does not know this information and therefore does not disclose his disability during the hiring process – even if he discloses it later on – the workplace is not required to provide accommodations.
And again, in this post high school situation of employment, the potential employee needs to know what to say about his disability along with what he needs for an accommodation. For example, one individual I worked with stated that he had autism and for him this meant that he would wear noise canceling headphones brought from home as this would allow him to concentrate in a more focused way and thus he would be more productive accomplishing his work tasks. He added that even though he would wear the headphones, he was still able to hear people who approached him and talked to him. He added that it was his habit to remove the headphones when having a conversation.
This same individual explained that he was able to be more productive if he could use a lamp rather than the overhead fluorescent lights. He was assured that would be no problem, but the company needed to provide and set up the lamp in his office as it had to be cleared through maintenance as complying with the fire code.
It is wonderful for those of us in the U.S. with disabilities that there are laws providing for our accommodations. However, there is not one set of laws, but instead a changing set of laws that cover different areas. This is why it is so important that youngsters are taught about their own accommodation needs and how to relay that information in higher education and/or employment settings, whatever their need may be. This is not only good for the individual with the disability, but also good for society as it paves the way for contribution to society that might otherwise not be able to happen. Regardless of ability or disability, when individual skills and talents are not utilized society misses out. We need all our citizens contributions to be our best collective whole.
BOOKS BY JUDY ENDOW
Endow, J. (2019). Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.
Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2006). Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.
Endow, J. (2013). Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.
Endow, J. (2009). Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2009). Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Endow, J. (2010). Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013). The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.
Originally written for and published by Ollibean May 2016