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  • Mitch Blatt

Crossing a Fine Line

Accommodations. At one time or another, we’ll all need them, whether it’s in school, the workplace, or in our everyday life—anyone can get into a car accident and become paralyzed, for example, or we could have “dormant” genes waiting for the right stressor to flip on the “mental illness” switch. Today, it’s your coworker or neighbor; tomorrow, it could be you.

But is there such a thing as being too accommodating?


TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING...?


Providing reasonable accommodations is all well and good, but there’s a line where providing accommodations crosses over into enabling bad behavior. Some examples of this are 1) providing a person who suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with tools to carry out their compulsions (the recommended treatment for this disorder centers on resisting compulsions so that your brain learns there’s no danger or urgency, which would only be made more difficult by accommodating them) and 2) teachers & educators using some tool(s) for too long, inhibiting students’ growth—the overuse of, or slow removal of, accommodations that were needed at one point.

You might think the accommodation is helping, but the first example is similar to allowing an employee who struggles with drug addiction to take breaks to go use—and supplying them with more of the drug than would otherwise be available. Compulsions are less like smoking and more like Lay's brand potato chips; you can’t do just one (or, that’s what OCD wants you to believe about yourself). If you give OCD an inch, it’ll take a mile. Five minutes of not doing work on the clock will snowball into ten, twenty, an hour. The best and most reasonable “accommodation” for it, in my nonprofessional opinion, is no accommodation. I know that comes off as harsh, but it’s my opinion based on lived experience.

If we’re talking about school rather than work, common school accommodations include things like extended time on tests, or a notetaker; I think that temporary classroom accommodations can be helpful in the short term, but also that a bit of pressure (the “ticking clock” of a test or assignment with a due date, for instance) can light a(n additional) fire in you to resist compulsions. I fail to see what connection these specific school accommodations would have to OCD, so it doesn’t really make sense to me that having OCD qualifies you for them.


The second example is akin to using a wheelchair after having an operation done on your legs. Obviously, you’ll need it to get around while your legs are in casts or otherwise “out of commission.” But that’s just it—the wheelchair’s there for while your legs are healing, no longer. The longer you use an assistive device, the more dependent you become on it; your muscles get used to the assistance and atrophy from disuse. It works the same way with your mental or emotional skills—someone solves all the tough math problems for you? You won’t learn how to do it yourself, or gain the confidence to give it a shot.


At some point on TikTok, “time blindness” became well-known after a girl posted a TikTok regarding an interview experience; she'd wanted to know if there were accommodations for time blindness, and the person she was talking to said that there weren't and that it wouldn't fly in the workplace. It turns out that the girl had meant time blindness in the context of ADHD—time blindness is an actual symptom of a real condition, not just "some gen Z excuse for laziness"; she'd just presumed that viewers would know that she was talking about ADHD. Responses from others say that she’s mixing up “accommodation” and “special treatment,” which negatively impacts the perception of accommodations and the people who seek them; critics say “oh, just set alarms and reminders on your phone” or “using the term ‘time blindness’ and expecting somebody in the outside world [off of TikTok] to understand what you’re talking about is expecting too much. ... we have to be careful about our expectations of other people in the real world, be- cause TikTok is not the real world

... You’ve got to adapt if you want to make it out there.”


WHAT'S NEXT?


So what do we do? Whether or not you personally agree that there’s a point where providing accommodations backfires and becomes enabling, we need something actionable. What action can we take?

While we might not have ready-made answers to tough questions like this, I find that it can be immensely helpful even just to ask the questions in the first place—for example, asking myself (and Google) about OCD accommodations led me to an article¹ from the Job Accommodation Network that lists accommodations for various limitations, as well as one² from BeyondOCD. The first says that people with OCD can have trouble with things like organization, punctuality, and concentration on tasks, and provides drop-down lists of all accommodations they offer (not specifically ones for OCD); the second talks about broader things like how to obtain official accommodations, reasons why accommodation requests might be denied, and strategies to try before seeking official accommodations—and also makes the excellent point that some accommodations can backfire, such as extra time allowing more opportunities to perform compulsions.


QUESTIONS PROMPT DISCUSSION,

WHICH LEADS TO ANSWERS.


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