If you’re exploring special education for your child or a child you know, you may hear all kinds of things that give you pause. It can be hard to know what’s true and what’s not. Here’s the reality behind 10 common special education myths.
Myth #1: Kids who get special education services have to be in a separate classroom.
Fact: IDEA, the U.S. special education law, says that kids who get special education should be in the same classrooms as other kids as much as possible. This concept is called least restrictive environment, or LRE. Research shows that two-thirds of kids with learning disabilities spend at least 80 percent of their day in the general education classroom with all the other kids.
Myth #2: Special education is only for kids with severe physical and intellectual disabilities.
Fact: Most kids who have special education services don't have severe disabilities. The majority of these students have a specific learning disability. That includes kids with reading challenges like , and those with math challenges like .
Myth #3: Getting services is always a battle.
Fact: You’ve probably heard stories of parents who had to “fight” to get services for their kids. But nearly 6 million kids in the U.S. receive special education services. So there are plenty of stories about it going well. Knowing kids’ rights can make a huge difference in making the process go smoothly.
Myth #4: Kids who receive special education will be labeled forever.
Fact: It’s natural to worry about the stigma of a “label.” But special education focuses on services and supports based on a child’s needs, not a label. When you work with teachers, it helps them understand who your child is — beyond test scores and evaluations. Your input helps the school provide the best services. And keep in mind that getting the best help now doesn’t mean kids will have special education services forever.
Myth #5: Kids who get special education have to take ADHD medications.
Fact: Taking medication for ADHD is an individual decision you make with the help of a doctor. In fact, IDEA — the federal law covering special education — specifically states that schools can’t require a child to take medication to get services.
Myth #6: Special education services are expensive, so other kids will lose out on activities.
Fact: Schools get federal funding for special education programs. That funding doesn’t pay for everything. But it helps to ensure that only a small part of the local school budget goes to special education. All kids have the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If a child needs special education services, try not to be held back by concerns about where the school gets that money.
Download this one-pager on FAPE.
Myth #7: Kids who have special education services have to take the “special ed bus.”
Fact: Some kids do get what’s known as “special transportation.” It’s an option the law allows for. But kids don’t have to take it. If your child goes to the neighborhood school and has no problems on the regular bus or is able to take public transit, there’s no reason to take a special bus.
Myth #8: Kids who get special education can’t participate in the same activities as other kids.
Fact: Kids who get special education services can join the same activities as other kids — both in and outside of school. The law says so! It’s true that some kids with learning and thinking differences have a hard time with social situations. But it doesn’t mean kids can’t participate in extracurricular activities. It’s a great way to make friends and develop skills outside of a classroom setting.
Myth #9: Kids with special education services don’t get a good education.
Fact: Special education has changed a lot over the years. The changes have helped to make sure students get a FAPE and that they’re not separated from their peers without justification. Parents now play a bigger role in the process. There’s more research and awareness of learning and thinking differences. And , , and other approaches have changed how kids are taught.
Myth #10: If you’ve never had special education, you won’t know how to support a child who does.
Fact: If you don’t have firsthand experience with special education, it’s natural to worry that you won’t be able to relate. Having a good relationship with teachers can help you get ideas on how to support your child. Talking openly with kids is key, too. Find out what to say when kids are worried about getting extra help.
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About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.