The Virtual Wheelchair Ramp: Making Accommodations at Home for Your Child’s Learning Style

In a meeting I attended last week in which we discussed handicapped accessibility for a building, we challenged ourselves to consider the mission of our group and whether our building reflects that.  In this instance we were considering accessibility for people who are physically handicapped, things like having an elevator or grab bars in the bathroom.

The discussion reminded me of conversations I often have with parents about accommodating their children’s learning or emotional disabilities.  Often the best way to help a child improve behavior is to change the environment to suit his or her needs.

For instance, if your child has difficulty with changes in routine, it is helpful to try to make your days, or at least parts of days, be predictable.  On weekends when most people like a change, your child might do better with a preview about what events are coming up.  Your child might benefit from a schedule written out or with pictures to show what is happening that day.

Some people might see this type of accommodation as coddling, but would they say that about putting in a wheelchair ramp?  When you adapt your expectations to your child’s current abilities and the way she thinks, she can be more successful and feel better about herself.  You are likely to have fewer meltdowns to cope with. And in time your child will grow to be able to take a little more of a challenge.  Success builds confidence so that children are willing and able to try challenges.

There are as many ways to adapt the environment or expectations for a child as there are children.  The adaptions all depend on who your child is and what her strengths and challenges are.  This means taking the time to notice what situations cause difficulties and then thinking about how things might be rearranged.  For instance, if you ask your child to go get three things from her room, and she regularly returns with one or none, you could scold her for inattention.  Or you could take note that she does not hold that much information in working memory, and you could give her a list next time.  It might work better.

As children get older, they often begin to use these adaptive strategies on their own.  They become more independent and they are able to shape their environment in some ways themselves.  I know adults who will ask their spouse for a written instead of spoken list of errands.  These people know what their working memory can and cannot do.  And they are more successful because of it.

Have you made helpful accommodations in your household?  I would be interested to know.


Photo credit:  Kecko on Flickr


11 Responses to “The Virtual Wheelchair Ramp: Making Accommodations at Home for Your Child’s Learning Style”
  1. JoAnn Jordan says:

    Comparing accommodations to physical adaptations does make this easier to understand the importance.

  2. dr.cstone says:

    I’m glad that you think so, JoAnn. I think I should also add that using supports such as I described can also help children grow and adapt so that they make accommodations for the learning disabilities. A wheelchair ramp sounds pretty permanent.

  3. This is a great post that is right on target. I agree that it is not coddling to meet the developing needs of your child and it can often create some space and peace in a family system to take away a struggle that is causing so everyone distress. I love the idea too that children will learn how to accommodate for themselves as they grow up. Warmly, Allison

  4. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Allison,
    Thanks for your comment. It’s a strategy that asks parents to accept their child’s limitations at the moment (hard job)and to have faith that the child might learn to adapt and accommodate. Sad news with the opportunity for good news.

  5. Gretchen Baker-Smith says:

    I so appreciate this, Carolyn. So many people cannot see that meeting different learning styles and accomodating mental and emotional challenges is not ‘coddling,’ but most of them would agree that ramps are ‘reasonable’ and necessary accomodations. It’s a really useful analogy. Thank you!

  6. This is a really helpful analogy, Carolyn. I know people who aren’t sure whether to try “tough love” or strict discipline in an effort to “fix” a loved one’s problem. Sometimes accommodations are what is called for.

  7. Carolyn,

    This is a wonderful framework for an issue that lots of people (parents included) have a hard time getting their heads around. I also think that kids have a better chance to learn their own coping and accommodation strategies if those strategies are modeled to them early in life.

    Thanks for a caring and compassionate challenge to re-think how we care for our kids.


  8. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Gretchen,
    I’m glad you find it useful–feel free to use it yourself!

  9. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    Before you can decide on whether tough love is in order, you need to understand why the behavior is happening. It’s really confusing because kids can look “lazy” (a word I abhor) or disobedient, but when you find out how they process information, it can become clear that they are up against a disability and accommodation is called for.

  10. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Ann,
    Thanks for your kind comment. It’s really true that providing accommodations and modeling coping or problem-solving strategies early in life is most helpful. The brain is plastic. It’s amazing how kids learn to compensate for their weaknesses.

  11. Hi Dr. Carolyn – Gr8 reframing around the words “coddling” and “adaptation” Nice post.