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Special Education Myths, Busted


As with many topics, the realm of special education is often (and unfortunately) filled with myths and rumors that can cloud important facts and create stigma.

We’re here to help.

Here are some prominent special education myths and misconceptions, along with the truth behind them, from experienced educators around the country.

Myth 1: Students who receive special education services attend special classes, have severe disabilities, and/or are unable to live independently.

“Special education is for all students who require additional support and services in order to learn. Special education is not for students with severe disabilities but the supports and services provided are for individuals at all learning levels. Many students who receive special education services attend classes and learn alongside their peers without [disabilities]. Additionally, many go on to live productive lives including attending college, obtaining employment, and living independently with his or her apartment.”

-Sabrina M. Singleton, Ph.D., CRC, Vocational Rehabilitation Consultants, LLC

Myth 2: The child is simply acting out, misbehaving, not listening, or being stubborn.

This is, in no way, a behavior evident in all special ed students. However, even if it’s exhibited by some, or at times, it’s not a character flaw. “In reality these children are struggling to communicate, they are overwhelmed, tired, sick, hungry, or are having a rough day.”

– Elizabeth Malson, President of Amslee Institute, an online diploma program for nannies that includes several special education courses

Myth 3: Autism is always severely debilitating.

“For some reason, we have it in our heads that autistic children and adults are people who cannot survive on their own and must be carefully cared for. It simply isn’t true. Autism is a broad spectrum disorder, meaning that it affects everyone differently. There have been plenty of successful people who have had autism.”

-Allison Bruning, Academic Warriors

Myth 4: A special education label stays with you for life.

“Special education is actually structured to regularly review whether or not children continue to need services. Every three years, or more often if requested by the parent or the school, the child’s special education team (which includes teachers, specialists and the parent) takes a look at whether or not the child still needs special education and meets the requirement for it. Depending on the progress that a child is making, they may be dismissed from special education.”

Dr. Ari Yares, psychologist

See also:

Myth 5: Special Education students always stand out.

“At the beginning of each school year, I review with my special education co-teacher which students have special education needs. I become familiar with their names and read their IEP paperwork to get prepared. On the first day of school when I meet all 100 of my new students for the year, and I do not know any of their names, I usually cannot tell those students with special education needs from a ‘normal’ student. Though there are special cases, [such as when] a student is in a wheelchair, most students in special education cannot be identified as such.”

Raymond Steinmetz, 7th Grade Math Teacher, Portsmouth Middle School

Continue Your Research:

What Is Special Education? (Probably Not What You Think)

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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.