6 Key Questions that Lead to Effective Accommodations
If you’re reading this, then chances are you and I have a shared experience, or at least one that overlaps in significant and meaningful ways. It’s likely that your child, like my daughter, has a brain-based condition of some kind. It’s also highly likely that your child has challenging behavioral symptoms resulting from his or her brain-based differences, just like my daughter does.
And, just like me, I imagine you’ve experienced time and again how having a child with such an invisible disability makes them vulnerable to all kinds of misunderstandings. Our parenting, as a result, is highly complex, complicated and requires a different lens and approach than most of our peers would utilize with their neurotypical child.
What makes this parenting experience so different is that it requires us to continuously consider how our child’s unique brain works differently, and from there, to determine which accommodations they require to be more successful in their day-to-day life.
I likely don’t need to tell you that accommodations aren’t the normal path one sees when trying to figure out how to “manage” a child with challenging behaviors. When we live in a society that is deeply rooted in a behavioral lens (meaning the behavior is seen as willful, purposeful and intentional) and there is no acknowledgment of this being about behavioral symptoms, most people don’t slow down enough to think: “Let’s brainstorm accommodations that will support this child in the skills behind these challenging behaviors…” Instead, they tend to move reactively towards consequences, bribes, shaming, withholding possessions or activities of value, and any other punishment that will make the behavior stop. That is the approach at the very foundation of the behavioral lens.
And when none of those techniques work, the question that gets asked again and again is, “If these traditional parenting and control techniques don’t work to stop this child from being so disruptive and challenging, then what does?!”
Which is where accommodations enter the picture.
Accommodations are the path to more expansive possibilities for us, our child, and our family.
Accommodations really are the treatment for kids with brain-based conditions. They are the path to a reduction in challenging behaviors. They are not “giving in” or rewarding a child for bad behavior, but are instead decidedly proactive, developed through observation and reflection. Accommodations are backed by neuroscience research, which tells us unequivocally that brain-based differences are physical disabilities that require support, just like any other physical disability. They recognize that kids would do well if they could, and if they aren’t doing well (if they're becoming aggressive, melting down, being disruptive, etc.) then it’s a clear sign of an opening to provide more targeted and individualized support related to a child’s differences and lagging cognitive skills.
Accommodations are what help our child settle in their environment and, over time, to experience fewer challenging behavioral symptoms.
When we’ve tried the traditional behavioral lens-type management with our child, and it continues to fail (and often times, makes things worst), it feels like the options for how we might help our child are shrinking as time goes on. We throw our hands up, feeling that nothing works and we’re powerless as parents. We start to believe that maybe we are the problem (we’re bad parents) and/or our kids are just “bad kids,” that there is nothing anyone can do. But accommodations are the treatment, and the path to more expansive possibilities for us, our child, and our family.
So how do we begin to create and implement accommodations to support our child’s lagging cognitive skills? We begin by asking a set of questions that are answered through thoughtful, proactive observation and reflection. From there we brainstorm accommodations, implement them, see what works (or doesn’t), refine and try again. Here are some questions to consider for this process, provided here in a specific order that one should follow throughout the accommodation development process.
What is the specific objective your child is expected to meet, or task they are expected to complete? This helps you look “upstream” for the root of the problem, instead of starting with the challenging behavior as the primary (and often singular) focus.
What does anyone’s brain have to be able to do in order to successfully complete this task or meet this expectation? This helps clarify the cognitive skills required of any person who has to complete this task or meet this expectation. This could be things like, “They need to remember several steps at a time” or “They need to be able to be flexible and adjust to sudden change of plans” or “They need to be able to process verbal information and remember it later” or “They need to be able to tolerate and filter out all the other noise to be able to listen” — and so many more.
What do you know about your child’s brain function in relation to this particular cognitive skill? If you are new to this parenting paradigm, this may not be something you know right away. This is often where the steep learning curve exists for many parents, but persistence in gaining clarity about your child in this area is well worth the effort.
How old is your child developmentally? Our children are often younger in many skill areas than their peers. This fact is foundational to our understanding of our child, and this question is one we must come back to again and again.
What secondary behaviors (symptoms) do you see with your child specific to this environment/situation? Notice that this is the first time we ask anything about the challenging behavior itself. It is the second to last element we look at in this process, not the first.
Based on all this information, what accommodations might help your child be more successful/settle in this environment? Brainstorm, implement, reflect, refine, try again.
Accommodations are proactive, not reactive.
They are not “giving in” or “making excuses” for our child, they recognize that they require more support than a typical child.
They are powerful and, most importantly, they work.
Interested in learning more about how your child’s unique brain works differently and what this means in terms of helping them experience fewer challenging behaviors? You can visit eileendevine.com to learn about the Brain First Parenting program and The Resilience Room membership community.
Eileen Devine works in Portland, OR as a therapist and coach supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD, PANS/PANDAS and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FASD. For more information, visit eileendevine.com.