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Those two words may seem like synonyms to many parents. But for those with a child that has a disability, knowing the difference between the two terms empowers parents to help their child achieve success.
Determining when to accommodate or modify
Having a child with Cerebral Palsy means planning for their child’s education, therapy and care. One of the last issues parents may prepare for is how to decipher a dizzying array of lingo.
Words that are strikingly common in meaning in terms of everyday usage take on distinctly different meaning when talking about a disability; navigating these terms in conversation and in the self-directed research can be an immense help as a child’s treatment and education move forward.
Some of the most common terms that are used are accommodation and modification. Most of the time, parents will hear these words in an educational setting as teachers and administrators determine the parameters of a child’s Individual Education Plan, or IEP. They also come across them in therapy, home modifications, auto conversions, and in sports, recreation and play.
By the time a child is 18 years old, these terms are as second nature as saying hello or goodbye. But when a child is an infant, parents have so many new issues to cope with that learning what these two words will mean to their child is confusing, or bewildering.
So it is for that reason that we have compiled an overview of what accommodations and modifications mean to parents and children.
“Accommodation” is a support that will be a key tool in the arsenal needed to make sure a child with Cerebral Palsy receives a meaningful education, has access to employment, use of public places and the ability to use transportation and other services.
So much of coping with Cerebral Palsy is about creating opportunities for a child to complete the same tasks others do. Accommodation means making a change that can help a person work around a disability to complete such tasks.
Because every child with Cerebral Palsy is unique with a set of skills and challenges that are completely his or her own, accommodation looks different for each student. Accommodations may be different for each child, but the outcome should always be the same. The child should be able to complete the task at hand, whether communicating with others, engaging in a physical activity, performing self-care, or finishing an assignment. Accommodations take into account a person’s disability to perform activities others are able to complete.
According to a 2006 study overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, 61.9 percent of students with disabilities needed additional time to complete a test. Another 38.6 percent of students needed the test read aloud so they could answer questions.
Accommodations need to be implemented in such a way that they set up realistic expectations for a child. Making an accommodation often requires environmental changes because a student might not be able to work at a desk or in a noisy environment. Assistive equipment such as computers and additional supports are often required.
Let’s say that a child has difficulty writing or holding a pencil because of poor control of his or her arms. A good example of accommodation would be quizzing a student orally to allow him or her to demonstrate knowledge of the subject at hand so he or she can receive a grade. This allows the child to prove their knowledge, but without reliance on their ability to write. They answer the same question other students are required to answer, they only answer it in a different manner.
Now, let’s say that the child has difficulty with fine motor skills and is nonverbal. The goal has to be the same for all students, but the accommodation will be entirely different. A successful accommodation for this child means allowing the child to use a communication device to provide his or her answer.
The accommodation could be taken a step further. Let’s consider that the quiz is being given to students in a mainstream class, and that students have 40 minutes to complete the quiz. Because of the physical demands and communication challenges of the students mentioned earlier, it would be reasonable and acceptable to waive the time requirement for these students.
Implementing accommodations means those who teach or care for a child are required to have a clear understanding of the child’s abilities – their physical, cognitive and emotional resources. The best way to look at accommodation is that provisions are being made to level the playing field that exists for both children with disabilities and those without.
Accommodations can be made at school, at home, at work, and in recreation and creative pursuits.
“Modification” means a change in what is expected from a child in a given situation, a change in the task altogether.
This might seem like it’s an attempt to lower the bar for students with disabilities. However, modifications are developed with the child’s best interest in mind. If the child is not able to succeed at the task at hand, then an accommodation is considered. But, when an accommodation is not sufficient, a modification provides an opportunity for the child to learn, grow, participate and develop to the best of his or her abilities. Depending on the nature of a child’s disability, modifications can – and often do – lower the academic level of what a child is being taught and what is expected from the child. Modifications are made in both mainstreamed and special education environments.
Sometimes, changing what is expected of a child – especially in the classroom – can provide a better snapshot of what a child knows. By modifying the level and amount of work a child must complete, educators can better assess a child’s proficiencies and challenges, which increases the likelihood that he or she will be successful in school.
Because children with disabilities have so much time invested in their health, modifications are often necessary. Children often leave school only to be taken to physical or occupational therapy several times a week. Often, conventional tasks like changing clothes or feeding can take more time than it does for other children. Therefore, it may not be reasonable for a child with disabilities to take home excessive hours of homework each night, or only be provided 15 minutes to eat during lunch hour.
Here’s a scenario to consider: A child with Cerebral Palsy that also has cognitive impairment is taking a history exam. If the child is asked to take the same test required of all students, completing the test could take several hours. And, because the child has difficulty processing data, he or she may not be able to understand complex questions as readily as a child without a disability.
A desirable modification would be constructing the child’s questions in a simplified sentence structure and to include multiple choice or “yes or no” answers that limit the amount of writing the student is required to complete in the time allocated. Also, the test could pinpoint broad, as opposed to complex, details. This way, a child can be quizzed on the material and the teacher can assess the child’s knowledge. The goal is to advance learning.
The concept of modification is especially beneficial if a child attends classes in a mainstream setting. Most parents want their child to receive a general education diploma, as opposed to a special education diploma. Many students that have disabilities are more than capable of meeting that goal. But because the rigors of classroom scheduling, testing and the use of materials for hands-on assignments are not practical for these students, some creativity is required. Modifications are made according to strict educational requirements.
Modifications are meant to provide a child with the opportunity to learn and develop. Sometimes, students need different services to be successful; this concept is also true outside the classroom.
A child may not have the ability to skate at the neighborhood ice hockey game, but today, a young person can play modified hockey that makes use of a sled with runners/blades to transport across the ice, making inclusion a possibility. Or, they can be positioned as goalie where constant skating is not a requirement. The child would not be playing hockey at the physical level of able-bodied children, but he’s playing the best he can within his set of skills.
That’s what modification is meant to do – to provide inclusive opportunities afforded those without a disability.
What’s the difference?
It’s vital to a child’s progress inside and outside of the classroom that his or her parents understand the difference between accommodation and modification, and the intention behind both concepts.
The best way to differentiate accommodation and modification is that the accommodation is providing a way that a student can learn and be tested on the same material as others, and modification is when it is decided that what is being expected of the child is modified in a manner that affords him or her the best chance for success based on ability.
The terms are not interchangeable. Not understanding the difference between the two could cause a scenario where a child is provided an entirely different learning experience.
Because modifications lower student expectations, they are typically considered after all attempts at accommodation have been exhausted. But sometimes, a teacher’s assessment that calls for a modification may take an inaccurate view of a child’s capabilities. If the parent goes into a conference unaware of what these terms mean, a child that is capable of doing grade-level work with a few accommodations could end up learning modified material based on a false inference.
This, in turn, creates an inaccurate perception of a child’s abilities and could cause a host of problems as that young person attempts to go to college, or find employment. Children that require modifications are less likely to be mainstreamed than their accommodated counterparts, or may spend more time in special education classes for some requirements. This is not to say that special education classes are somehow inefficient, or less desirable. It is to recognize how relevant these two terms are when planning a child’s experience and outcome.
All parents, including those that have a child with Cerebral Palsy, have a burning desire to see that their child receives an education that can serve as a solid economic and social foundation. To ensure the foundation is constructed correctly, it helps parents to have a firm understanding of these two terms. Accommodation and modification corresponds to what efforts are being made, in and out of the classroom, to educate and include a child. What both terms have in common is the goal of providing the best outcome for a child to achieve and succeed to the best of his or her abilities.
It’s hard to find an aspect of life that is not touched in some way by technology. For people with disabilities, technological advances offer opportunities for inclusion in every aspect of life – home, school, work, and play. Assistive technology breaks down the barriers that include activity limitations and participation restriction. These advances form the nerve center of the disability movement – equal opportunity.