At a glance
It’s not uncommon for kids to refuse to use their IEP or 504 plan accommodations.
There are lots of reasons kids may refuse to use accommodations, from feeling ashamed to just not needing them.
Once you understand why a child isn’t using an accommodation, you can figure out how to approach the situation.
When kids with or have the right accommodations in place, families and educators often feel relieved. But sometimes, kids refuse to use those accommodations. Read on to learn some common reasons.
1. They don’t want to stand out or feel different.
Like all of us, kids have a powerful need to feel like they fit in and belong. But kids who learn and think differently often feel like they stand out from their peers. They might have special tutoring or be pulled from class for services.
An accommodation can be another reminder of how they’re different from their classmates. Some kids prefer to struggle with an assignment, rather than stand out from the crowd.
2. They’re worried about how other kids might react.
Using a classroom accommodation is not cheating. It simply helps level the playing field for kids who learn and think differently, by helping them access coursework.
But that concept may be hard to understand for their classmates who don’t use accommodations. That means some kids worry their peers are going to say “no fair!” or make fun of them for using accommodations in class. Even one negative comment from a classmate can make kids reluctant to use an accommodation.
Read a young woman’s explanation of why she felt ashamed to use accommodations in school.
3. They think they’re doing something wrong.
Kids who learn and think differently are used to school being difficult. Once they have accommodations in place that work well, they may start doing better. And that can be confusing. It might feel like the accommodation is doing the work for them, which can feel wrong. They may not yet understand that the accommodation is a tool that helps them show knowledge or get their work done.
4. They don’t believe or understand how it will help.
It’s important that kids have a say in choosing accommodations. But that doesn’t always happen. As a result, they may not know why the accommodations were chosen. Or they may be told what the accommodations are, but not why they have them. It also could be that kids were involved in picking accommodations but didn’t fully understand the process.
Without buy-in from kids, accommodations might not get used. Knowing why extra time on tests is an option or how a fidget is supposed to help is key in getting kids to use accommodations. It’s also important to give kids a few weeks to get comfortable with them.
5. They don’t want to ask to use it (or they forget to ask).
Ideally, accommodations are readily available or built in to lessons, so it’s easy for kids to use them. But that’s not always the case. For example, a substitute teacher may not be aware of accommodations or how kids can use them.
Rather than draw attention to themselves by pointing out the need or asking permission to use it, some kids will just go without. Or kids may forget to ask if no one reminds them.
6. They don’t know how to ask for it.
Self-advocacy is an important skill for kids who learn and think differently. It helps them ask for what they need — including accommodations. But not all kids know how to ask. They may not have the skills or language to ask to use an accommodation. And kids who are shy about self-advocating or who don’t want to look like they’re correcting the teacher might opt to not use their accommodation, rather than speak up.
Families: Explore self-advocacy sentence starters kids can use to start speaking up.
7. They don’t want to admit they need help.
As kids get older, they may become more aware of how learning differences impact them in school. That awareness might make them feel emotions like shame. Kids may also want to “prove” to everyone that they don’t need help.
If they’re not yet comfortable talking about their challenges or asking for help, they may refuse to use accommodations. In some cases, kids may think they don’t need an accommodation, when they actually do.
Read what prompted one college student to open up to friends about the help she needed.
8. They don’t need it in this class or lesson.
Not all accommodations are necessary for all classes or lessons. For example, in a lecture-heavy English class, some kids may need speech-to-text technology to record a lecture. In a more hands-on class, this may not be necessary. Just because an accommodation is available for all classes doesn’t mean a student needs to use it in all classes.
9. It isn’t helpful or doesn’t work.
Kids who don’t see the benefits of accommodations may refuse to use them. And sometimes, an IEP or 504 accommodation doesn’t end up working as well in practice as it seemed like it would. But not all kids are able to explain when an accommodation isn’t working for them. They also might not know how to suggest something else that might work better.
Families: Learn what questions to ask to find out if accommodations are working.
If kids are refusing accommodations or not sure about using them, it’s important to understand why. That way you can start to think about how to approach the issue. Just keep in mind that there isn’t always just one solution.
Learn more by exploring common classroom accommodations.
Kids might not use accommodations because they feel ashamed or don’t want to stand out.
Some kids don’t know how to use an accommodation, or how to ask to use it.
Make sure kids know why an accommodation was chosen, and why using it isn’t cheating.
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Trynia Kaufman, MS was the senior manager of editorial research at Understood. She is a former educator and presents nationwide at education conferences.