Ten Special Education Facts That Might Surprise You

In the labyrinth of special education rules, regulations, facts and figures, the ordinary visitor is bound to overlook certain details. Even an experienced parent, who has been studying the details for some time may be surprised by what they find after extensive research.

Brush up on some laws and facts that you might have missed the first time reviewing all there is to know about special education. Below are some myths debunks, some facts uncovered, and some information reviewed about special education and learning disabilities.

1. Jean-Mark-Gaspard Itard, a French physician, is considered to be “The Father of Special Education.” Even though Special Education laws weren’t passed until 1975, with the Education of the Handicapped Act, Itard was attempting to educate children with mental disabilities in a systematic fashion as early as the late 1700s and early 1800s. He is particularly famous for his work with Victor, a feral child known as the “Wild Boy of Aveyron.” Itard developed a program, considered by many as the first attempt at special education, to teach Victor language and empathy.

2. More boys than girls are being diagnosed with learning disabilities. Nearly four times as many boys are diagnosed with LD, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a gender discrepancy in having a learning disability. It’s just that many girls are going unidentified or treated for their LD.

3. There aren’t waiting lists for special education. In fact, a “waiting list” for special education is illegal. A school must provide the appropriate IEP, resources, and teachers for a child that needs special education. Schools are permitted a certain time frame in which to evaluate the student, develop a personalized education program, and begin providing the services—anything that extends beyond that time frame violates the law.

4. If you disagree with the school’s proposed IEP, sign it immediately. This advice is counterintuitive, as you are unlikely to want to sign anything with which you disagree. However, in most states, signing it, including your concerns and then filing a complaint is the best course of action to address the issue immediately—otherwise, it is assumed that you have implied consent even without signing it. If you are not sure as to the process of filing a complaint or how to address a dissatisfactory IEP, contact a special needs advocate or attorney for advice and assistance.

5. You legally can bring anyone as an advocate to the IEP meeting. If you are the parent of a student with a disability, by law, you can bring whomever you want as an advocate. Ideally, you would want to bring someone who is familiar with the process, and some of the laws, and has the best interest of your child in mind. This is particularly important if you are very new to the process, are too “close” to the situation, or have established an adversarial relationship with the school.  This would also be a case where a special needs attorney or advocate would be useful as a neutral third-party, to protect the parent’s and student’s interests.

6. Children with severe disabilities do not need to attend a special school or center. A common misconception is that severely disabled children should be educated in a center designed for special education. Educators are unable to decide whether or not segregation is the best course of choice; however, by law, a child with special education needs must be educated with non-disabled children so long as he or she makes reasonable progress in his or her IEP goals with the aid of special supports and services. Only if the child is not making progress in a regular classroom setting will a special program of school be considered.

7. While people are aware of learning disabilities, they aren’t very familiar with the details. The NCLD survey found that 90 percent of respondents could identify dyslexia is a learning disability, and 80 percent could correctly define it, but most were far less familiar with other types like dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia.

8. You can ask for a new IEP meeting at anytime. You don’t have to wait until the next annual IEP meeting to make changes to the IEP. If you request a meeting, one must be held within 30 days. Any changes agreed upon during the meeting are added as an amendment to the original IEP.

9. Special education students do go onto college, even if the Special Education laws don’t extend to post-secondary schooling. Many colleges and universities offer support services for students with disabilities. And while only 10 percent of students with LD enroll in a four-year college program within two years of graduating (compared to 28 percent of the general population), 2004’s Individuals with Disabilities Education and Improvement Act (IDEA) specifically requires that students be prepared, as much as possible, during early schooling, for further continuing education and independent living.

10. Many people who have learning disabilities go on to become extremely successful, and in some cases, famous. Some of the greatest minds have had learning disabilities or other special education needs: Abraham Lincoln, Buzz Aldrin, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Vincent Van Gogh are just a few of the notable names.

In the course of making sure your child gets all the assistance he or she needs, no stone should be unturned. Debunking myths, educating yourself on laws, and just picking up interesting factoids can help you be a better advocate for your child.