Don’t stop people from using their abilities

If developing a skill, even shakily, means someone will lose their accommodations, that makes it impossible for someone to use that skill. That’s a problem.

For instance, people who can walk often still need wheelchairs. Denying wheelchairs (or wheelchair accessible transportation, or other accessible things) to people who can walk doesn’t make a wheelchair any less necessary. It just prevents people who can walk a little from ever doing so in public. (And prevents some people from developing that ability at all.)

Similarly, a lot of AAC users can talk, or can talk some of the time. For many people, the best form of communication is a mixture of speech and a communication device. Often, when people speak, they are treated as though they are faking their need for AAC. Or that they’d be able to use speech as their sole means of communication if they tried harder. That doesn’t make AAC any less necessary. It doesn’t make speech any more possible. All it does is make it impossible for someone to use both speech and AAC, which deprives them of communication options they’d otherwise benefit from.

Similarly, a lot of people who can read visually also need screen readers from time to time. If seeing someone read standard print means that you won’t let them use electronic formats anymore, that doesn’t give them new abilities. All it does is stop them from reading.

Wheelchair users have the right to do what they want with their legs and AAC users have the right to do what they want with their voices. People have the right to read in a combination of ways that are possible for them. There are numerous other examples. Those rights matter, and they’re often ignored.

Short version: People with disabilities who use equipment or adaptive strategies are often prevented from doing things in the standard ways too. They’re expected to either do things in the approved disabled way or the approved normal way. This is wrong. People should be able to do things in the way that works best for them. (Which is often a mixture of different ways, some of which are used by nondisabled people as well.)

A thought on making difference ok

One issue with accommodations and modifications in school, is that it can often be hard to avoid stigma. Kids don’t usually like being singled out or doing things conspicuously differently. Also, nondisabled kids often resent it when disabled kids are allowed to do things that they are not allowed to do.

Further, one frequent objection to accommodations is “but if I let one kid do this, then all the other kids will want to.”

Sometimes that’s true — and, often, the best solution to that problem is to just let all the kids do whatever the thing is. Sometimes there’s no good reason to restrict access to something. Sometimes changing the rule works better than making exceptions to it.

One way that something works to correct this problem is to make some of their accommodations available to other kids who would like to try them. The kid who has a documented need for accommodations probably isn’t the only one who would benefit from them.

And even aside from that, it’s good for kids to explore the world and experiment with different ways of doing things. This is a good way to learn that difference is normal, and that doing things differently is a basic fact of life.

For instance, if one kid needs to use manipulatives for math, maybe try making manipulatives available to all the kids.

If one kid needs a large print worksheet, maybe make a few large print copies and let kids try doing it that way.

If one kid needs to chew stuff, maybe make things available for other kids to chew.

If one kid needs to use fidget toys, maybe make them available to all the kids who would like to try it.

If one kid needs to type, and you have the resources to make that available to other kids too, maybe let them try doing assignments that way. And let the kids that works better for continue to do it.

And, beyond that, it helps to get in the habit of providing different ways to do things even when there isn’t a kid who needs them as a specific accommodation.

Not in the sense of “take a walk in the disabled kid’s shoes”, this is not a disability simulation. The point shouldn’t be empathy building, and it should not be presented as being about the disabled kid. The message is “there are a lot of legitimate ways to do things, and it’s ok to experiment and figure out what works for you, even if most people don’t do it the same way as you”.

You can’t always do this, and you can’t always do this for everything. When you can, it helps, a lot.

Stimming to get back control over your body

Some autistic people (and some others) have trouble with voluntary control over their bodies. This can involve having trouble initiating movement, or having a lot of uncontrolled movement, or a combination of both.

This often gets called stimming, but it’s different from some of the other concepts stimming is used to mean. It’s not the same as flapping your hands because you’re excited, or rocking back and forth, or squeezing a stress ball because it feels nice or helps with focus.

This is one thing it can look like:

  • Wanting to read a book
  • Having developed the motor skills necessary to hold books and turn pages
  • Not currently being able to read the book because, right now, your arms won’t stop thrashing around and it’s hard to make contact with the book and when you do, your fingers won’t go where you want them and turn the pages
  • And maybe you end up throwing the book if you keep trying really hard to read it

For some people who get out of control like that, doing any sort of purposeful motion can help to regain control faster.

Some examples:

  • wadding up paper into a ball
  • drawing circles
  • typing scripted phrases or random nonsense
  • lining up objects
  • repeating a word over and over
  • or any number of other things
  • doing something familiar and purposeful can often help a lot

This isn’t universal among autistic people, and it’s not universal among people with movement disorders. It’s something that some people experience.

“You should make a complaint!”

So, I’ve noticed this pattern:

  • Someone will describe some act of discrimination or social violence
  • And then very well-meaning people will weigh in and say things like
  • “They can’t treat people that way!”
  • “Wow, you should really report that!”

Reporting incidents of discrimination can be a good thing, and sometimes it goes somewhere. But, hearing this well-intentioned advice can actually be really frustrating, for a number of reasons:

The thing about being a marginalized person is that discrimination is a routine experience, not an occasional outrage:

  • Things that sound like aberrations to folks who are usually socially valued enough to be treated well most of the time are daily life for a lot of marginalized people
  • If we filed a formal complaint every time we experienced this, we’d have no time or energy for anything else
  • And sometimes, we want to get on with our lives and do things other than fight discrimination
  • Which means that, sometimes, when we talk about discrimination, we’re not asking for advice on how to make it go away; sometimes we’re accepting that we’re not going to be able to make it go away this time
  • And it needs to be ok to disagree about the right way to proceed

Also, sometimes complaints don’t actually help:

  • When the bad thing is the rule rather than the exception, it’s unlikely that anyone will care.
  • When the offender is much more socially valued than the victim, it’s likely that no one will care
  • People who complain frequently are generally seen as problem whiners, even if they are entirely justified in every complaint they make

Complaints are a good idea sometimes. But complaining is a very personal decision. Understand the costs and risks of complaining. Do not pressure a marginalized person to make a complaint in order to make yourself feel better about the state of the world. Do offer to support them if they want to do so.