Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How Not to Ask for Accommodations

Cranky Professor, whom I read occasionally, has given us a very interesting episode about a possible Aspie who went about asking for accommodations the wrong way. People are still talking about it (and yes you'll see my input there too).

In a nutshell, he self-"diagnosed" via the Internet, took no steps through his college's disability offices (specifically Academic Special Services and Counseling at that school) and just approached his professor demanding to be exempt from some of the work (specifically group projects). He said he just "can’t learn in groups ’cause people get in [his] way and piss [him] off," among other things.

Cranky Professor pointed him to the above-mentioned offices and sent him on his way. Good for her!

There's a widespread perception that Aspies, autists and other folks whose differences and disabilities aren't apparent to the naked eye are lazy, whining weaklings who need to learn to cope with life like the rest of us. Folks like this guy make matters worse.

Yes, we sometimes need accommodations. There are much better ways of asking for them:

  • Whenever possible, get an official diagnosis. I realize that it's not always an option, especially if you're unemployed and/or don't have insurance (or a partner who does). Please keep in mind that some providers operate on a sliding scale. A diagnosis really helps because it gives you credibility.

  • In school or in the workplace, follow the rules. For example, pretty much every college and university has an office dedicated to students with disabilities. Whether or not you consider your AS or autism a disability, if you want accommodations you need to follow the disability procedures. That includes disclosing your situation to them and presenting your written diagnosis; also any ideas you may have for reasonable accommodations may help. Beyond that, do what they tell you to do. Let's put our rule-following abilities to good use. In K-12, work with your parents or guardians and present your diagnosis and request for accommodations together. Either way, you and the appropriate people will put together an IEP (Individualized Education Program). Your IEP will be passed on to your teachers and professors and will shape how they treat you. On the job, the processes are probably much less formalized; you can disclose to your boss or to Human Resources (unless there is a separate office for that purpose). You should cooperate as much as possible there too.

  • As one knowledgeable commenter pointed out, there's a difference between accommodations and modifications. Accommodations are ways that you can do the same work, held to the same standards, as the others. Modifications mean you do less work and/or to lower standards. Ask for accommodations whenever possible. Preferably including some that have you putting forth a good bit of effort; try not to make everyone else do all the extra work.

  • Don't say you can't before you've tried. We Aspies certainly have difficulty with things like group work, for example. That doesn't mean it's impossible. It means we should ask for things like some understanding from our group fellows (and a blunt heads-up so we can correct ourselves) in case we come off as blunt or aggressive sometimes, and for meetings to be planned in advance whenever possible so we're not flustered. (We should also do stuff like get a good deal of sleep the night before each meeting so we're in top form.) That way, people will know that we do want to do the work and that we're not lazy.

  • Be as polite and accommodating as you can possibly muster. We're asking people to bend over backwards for us sometimes, and tolerate more of certain stuff from us than they would from most other people. Do everything possible to understand and then allow for their concerns. For example, if you want them to keep things predictable as much as possible, be as predictable as you can yourself. If you want people to explain things in detail to you, don't complain about their being "condescending" if they explain something you happen to already know backwards and forwards. Set the example.

One thing I've heard is that Aspies like to be either the first or the last to do something (eg, be the first or the last in line). I always thought that was just a personal quirk of mine. For example, I took a bit of pride in being the first on line when the George Mason University dining hall opened for the first day of my first semester there.

I also like to be quite early for social events. I've found that gives me time to collect my thoughts. And for me, being late is the worst.

Meanwhile, I like certain "lasts". For example, yesterday evening I got a job application - whose due date is today - in to the Post Office just in time before it closed. I was the clerk's last customer of the night. And then when I went grocery shopping, I got the last seven Weight Watchers frozen lasagnas with meat sauce, plus the last two bottles of Ocean Spray Light Cran-Grape Juice. I don't know just why I get a little thrill out of these things, but I do.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

All good advice - and most of the students I deal with who genuinely need accommodations have all the proper aid in place.

THIS guy, turns out, is NOT an aspie -- he's just a lazy dickbag.

Roia said...

My Aspie friend also likes to be first for some things and last for some. You are not alone in that. I didn't realize it was a "thing" for other folks- I figured it was just her. Hm.

StatMama said...

I think you raise a very valid point; there is a big difference between accommodation and modification. While some people are more disabled than others, most aspies prefer to try and go with the flow and not stand out. There is a right and a wrong way to go about seeking assistance if it is needed, and in this case the person clearly went about it in all the wrong ways.

Now if you'll excuse me, my husband is snow blowing gravel all over the front of our house...

Tanya @ Teenautism said...

Great idea for a post, Jeff! Your suggestions are very helpful.

Jess said...

I think thank goodness for this post. I just commented on the struggles of sticking to the standards of life on Asperger Square 8 and how we have to suck it up, for lack of a more sophisticated term. Lovely job.