Niche Resources

Pros and Cons of Your Child Being Classified as a Special Education Student

Sometimes terminology used within the realm of special education can come with negative connotations. One of these terms, “classified,” can be particularly off-putting, and cause parents of potential special education students to feel uneasy about going forth and accepting services.  With the word “classified” comes associations that include labeling and even stigma — but should that that the case?

For most students, it’s not. And moving forward with having your child “classified” (that is, deemed eligible for special education services) should be based on a careful analysis of pros and cons, along with the professional opinions of experts within the field.

We spoke with a variety of experienced sources from professionals to parents, educators. Here’s what they had to say about the pros and cons to having your child deemed eligible for special education, AKA,  officially being “classified.”

The Pros and Cons of Being Classified as a Special Education Student

Pros Cons
Pros Students get individualized attention.
Cons Special education students are sometimes separated from the rest of the class, which can be isolating.
Pros Students receive a specialized approach to their education.
Cons There's a potential for students to experience stigma.
Pros Students receive access to resources they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Cons Integration of special education students and general education students may not work for all needs.
Pros Class sizes are usually smaller (depending on the child’s needs).
Cons Instructional aides may limit a student’s ability to work independently.
Pros Students have access to highly qualified specialists and services.
Cons There's potential for students to struggle more socially.

In their own words:

Rebecca Sutherns, PhD CPF of  Sage Solutions

Rebecca’s daughter Claire (now 20, the second of four children) received a designation as “gifted” through their local school board when she was 9 years old. According to Rebecca, here’s what it meant:

  • Access to a congregated regional program from grades 4-8 that put her in a classroom with other gifted children. “The program was creative and engaging, staffed by motivated and specialized teachers. It re-engaged her in learning. And, as it was embedded regular school, it also exposed her to stigma and teasing. By Grade 7, she was tired of being labelled ‘Giftie’ and of being with the same group of 20 students every day. She started doing everything she could to be accepted by the mainstream students, and it led to some poor social choices on her part.”
  • Access to the Special Education resources at her high school, which “in practice meant that she had someone willing to rearrange her timetable to give her excellent teachers.”
  • More information for us as her parents. “Her test results and subsequent designation prompted us to research giftedness more so that we could understand better how her brain works.”

After high school? Rebecca says Claire’s gifted classification “has meant virtually nothing.”

David Alexander, Designer, Developer & Digital Marketer with Dyslexia

“There are many positives to draw from when your child is going into special education classes. Relief knowing that they are getting the specialized education they need, smaller class sizes which result in more one-on-one attention, specialized approaches to teaching that are more conducive to those that have struggled with mainstream education, students with special needs often find they excel at specific subjects — observe your child’s interests and talents, and being assessed and classified is better than not if your child is genuinely struggling and showing signs they require a different approach.

“The best advice I can give from my own experience is to introduce technology and encourage your child to help themselves. 

“Don’t let learning difficulties define your child or limit their potential.”

Nancy K Gretzinger, EdD, Retired 42+ years educator

“If testing deems the child has a learning deficit,” Nancy says, “I highly recommend special education and/or skilled tutoring.” She breaks it down this way:

Pro: [Your child is] getting individualized help by being pulled out.

Con: He’s missing instruction in the classroom.

“Let’s be honest scheduling is a nightmare anyway.” [ It’s impossible for the child to always be pulled from non-academic courses, and chances are they’ll be missing reading, math, writing, etc.]

Pro: If a staff is coming in the classroom, it’s the same thing.  He’s getting individualized help.

Con: Typically [this person is utilized as] the teacher’s extra helper. In this instance, “Co-planning [special ed and non-special ed teachers planning together] is important, however in my experience there is no extra time. If an instructional aide goes in the classroom, with no training, the student typically learns ‘learned helplessness,’” meaning the child grows accustomed to having assistance and is less likely to attempt independent work.”

Russell Van Brocklen, Founding Consultant, Dyslexia Remedy

Russell has strong opinions about separating special education students out from the rest of the class. He says:

As for the cons, there are countless.  Special education students are kept taking away from their classmates in many subjects and taught in separate classrooms with other special education students. This segregation can be emotionally and intellectually damaging. For these reasons, many schools try to keep their special education and general education students together, but this generally results in the special education student failing behind, as they need more support.  To combat this many schools include special education teachers in the general classroom, to assist the general education teacher with their special education students.”

The Bottom Line:

Having your child classified as a special education student isn’t an easy decision, and you may feel confused as to which way to proceed. As with all big decisions in parenting (and in life) it’s important to make an informed decision, and the one that is right for your child. Speak to those most familiar with him/her — their teachers, counselors, providers, your partner, etc. Carefully considering their expert observations and opinions will help you arrive at a decision you are comfortable with.

Find schools with special ed programs near you

Author: Erin Nicole Celletti

Erin Celletti is a freelance journalist and the Director of Communications at Integration Charter Schools. With seven years of classroom teaching and leadership experience, Erin has a BA in Journalism from Quinnipiac University, as well as a M.S.Ed. in Childhood and Special Education from St. John's University, and a M.S.Ed. in School and Building Leadership from Wagner College. Erin lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband, and baby girl on the way. Her work has also appeared in BRIDES, Teen Vogue, Allure, and TODAY Parents.