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Labeling in Special Education

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By: Suzie Dalien, M.Ed.

Labeling in Special Education | Special Education Resource

You label things at least once a week and probably don’t even know it. Think about it: that folder at work for your new client needs a label to identify it. How about your new jars of homemade salsa? They definitely need a label so you know what it is later on, and so other people can know what it is. Maybe you wrote your child’s name on their backpack, a convenient way to label their belongings. Labels are a part of our world, meant to help us distinguish one thing from another, which isn’t always a bad thing. But when they’re used to knock down, insult or divide intelligence, labels can definitely be a hindrance to educational development.

Kids learn a lot of their behavior from watching adults, and even when we think we’re setting the best example possible for our children, there could be something so inherent to our behavior that we don’t even know it’s bad. We all judge each other, apply labels to people and put them into little boxes with expectations created by us, whether we know it or not. Saying someone is “dumb” when you’re talking to your friend may not sound like the worst thing in the world, but a child who hears that slight insult processes it differently than we do and feels like they now have carte blanche to say the hurtful things we do. It creates an environment of hurt and shame instead of celebrating our individual talents and accomplishments, the complete opposite of what we mean to do.

Let’s explore some labeling related to special education, and what gives it such negative connotation.

Disability Labeling

Children that have learning disabilities or special needs used to be denied the privilege of a standard education, as there were no teachers or training in place to handle children with such nature. They were deemed too hard to educate, and often placed in institutions that might be better equipped to handle their special types of demands. Was it fair? Absolutely not, but with the advent of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 classes opened up within the public school system that allowed for children of all learning levels to now afford a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), regardless of their special needs. It was a miracle for the modern school system, but with the separation of students comes the name-calling and peer pressure that was bound to follow.

The unnecessary labeling of children with special needs is called disability labeling, and it can have a profound effect on the self-esteem of children who require just a little more attention than others in order to learn certain concepts. There are negative adjectives that are commonly associated with children who have learning disabilities, like “lazy,” unmotivated,” having a “behavior problem” or calling them “slow.” These are not only unfair terms in regards to these children, but are words that can have damaging consequences.

In some schools, even though children with special needs are identified by a professional who has diagnosed the disability, they might remain in general education classes instead of being offered access to a special education program that would better suit their needs. As they struggle to keep up and fall farther behind, it is a fair possibility that their peers will make fun of them, a type of bullying that can lead to behavioral issues and/or the student dropping out of school altogether. The latter is the sad result of a broken educational system that is too overloaded, too underfunded, and with classes that are too large to handle an influx of children with special needs.

Are There Any Benefits to Labeling?

As bad as it might sound, there are benefits to labeling children with special needs. What are the benefits? Let’s take a look:

  • A lot of schools are stressed with trying to find the funding to make education affordable for every student, regardless of disability. However, a lot of state and local funding comes from identifying the special needs of each child in the school so they can receive the appropriate amount of funds.
  • Labeling children with the need for special education can possibly lead to social change and highlight the programs that help children with special needs. It can bring the plight of the fragile educational system to the forefront of the public’s mind, giving a voice to those who are considered disadvantaged or challenged in some shape or form.
  • Placing the subject of special education at the forefront of peoples minds can promote tolerance rather than dissent. If a child is acting out because of a special need, it’s easier to tolerate the behavior when you know it’s from a disability rather than uncontrollable behavior.

The benefits of labeling are a little on the weak side, but hold water in their truth. There are slight advantages to labeling children who need the assistance of special education programs, however labeling children with special needs was never intended to be a defining characteristic. It’s important that we all remember that a special education label was only designed to open the door to much needed services for children with special needs.

The Future of Special Education

Special Education Resource envisions a world where labels do not define children, where all children are given the opportunity to reach their excellence. This requires a unanimous change in the public’s mind, but in the meantime individualized supplemental learning through special education tutoring can assist the needs of a child with a learning disability.

Online learning has been a technological relief to those with disabilities, as they can finally get the education they need at their own pace. The general education provided by the public school system is a great foundation for learning, but to work around special needs, a increased number of parents have turned to special education tutoring for their child with special needs. A special education tutor molds the curriculum currently being taught in your child’s traditional classroom to fit their specific learning needs. A free consultation is the first step to verifying whether or not special education tutoring is the right path for your child. A one-on-one interaction with a special education tutor, the call is designed to offer guidance, information along with answering the questions you have yet to find answers to.



This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 at 11:30 pm and is filed under Special Education Labeling and tagged as . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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One Response to Labeling in Special Education

  • Nikhil Chavan says:

    Very nice and informative article. Students with special needs should be handled with lots of care should be treated as equal as the other kids so they don’t feel demotivated or embarrassing.Yes, and online learning has made it possible for parents to educate their children and also they can get some ideas of how to communicate with their child or convey things easily.

  • Think Differently About Education.

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