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Opinion, Special Education

The Stigma of Special Education

Are we past the Stigma with Special Education?  Why are people so afraid of “Special Ed.”?  In the  1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s the “special” kids were sent to “special” schools or to the basement in regular schools.  This is where the stigma began for many people.  It came out of fear; fear of the unknown and fear of not understanding the real needs of the children in these classrooms.  Unfortunately, these fears and feelings continue. The truth is that we still need special schools for some children and we need special classrooms as well.  However, special education today is much, much more than that.  So, should we fear “Special Education” for our children? The answer is NO!  If your child requires services that will enable them to learn at a level that is designed for their individual needs, why deny them that?  As a parent, or an educator isn’t it our job to make sure we give each child the opportunity to live up to their potential, their individual potential? Special Education offers students a wide variety of services to enable and enhance their education.  It allows for students to be in the regular education classroom (Least Restrictive Environment) when in the past, they were not given that option.  Special Education gives children services and makes accommodations that allow children to learn and compete at the same level as their peers who are not challenged.  So who is really embarrassed most about getting the services, kids or adults?  The truth, it’s mostly the parents.  If the children are diagnosed early with special needs, then they become accustomed to receiving services designed to help them.  Children don’t feel shame and embarrassment by something that becomes a part of their life.  Those parents generally don’t either.  They usually see the services as a gift, and they are grateful.  It’s the parents that know innately their child needs more, or the school that notices something is going on with a child at say 10, 11 or maybe at 14 years old that it is more difficult.  Those kids and parents have developed pre-conceived notions of what “Special Education” is and they don’t want their child to “stand out”.  They worry that their peers will make fun or ostracize them for getting help.  What they don’t realize is that by not getting the services for their child, they are actually doing their kid a disservice. Just to make sure there is no confusion I am going to give some examples of what falls under the category of “Special Education”.  I won’t give examples for all the domains, but maybe for a few to help take the stigma out of special education.  Speech and Language Disorders, those are usually evaluated in Kindergarten if not before.  When children can’t use scissors properly or grasp pencils correctly, they need Occupational Therapy, which falls into Special Ed Services.  Vision Problems, like convergence of the eyes and tracking qualify children for accommodations in the schools.  Other diagnoses like ADD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Conduct Disorders, Giftedness, Emotional impairment and much, much more can qualify as Special Education. All of these disorders and many more can and do qualify children for Special Education Services.  This mean your child can receive accommodations to help him or her get the best education possible.  This enables your child to live up to their individual potential.  After all, if your child had Diabetes would you deny them their insulin?  If you couldn’t afford to pay for it yourself, would you find a way to fight for it?  It’s no different with Special Education, the services are there for the taking, and all you have to do is ask.

WRITTEN ON January 01, 2014 BY:


Rebecca Zusel, LMSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, mother of 3, practicing therapist, previous School Social Worker and active Advocate, representing children with special needs and their families. Visit her website at