1703 North Beauregard St.
Alexandria, VA 22311-1714
Tel: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday
Local to the D.C. area: 1-703-578-9600
Toll-free from U.S. and Canada: 1-800-933-ASCD (2723)
All other countries: (International Access Code) + 1-703-578-9600
April 2017 | Volume 74 | Number 7
Differences, Not Disabilities
This issue not only shares ideas for teaching students with learning differences (from dyslexia to autism to deafness), it also explores how educators' perception of disabilities and differences is changing—and whether it should change more. In the lead article ("Neurodiversity: The Future of Special Education?"), Thomas Armstrong argues that special education is "weighed down by a history emphasizing deficit, disorder, and dysfunction" and needs to change its approach.
Armstrong says it's a problem that special education "holds fast" to the diagnostic categories it puts students into. Similarly, Deborah Wolter ("From Labels to Opportunities") says that teachers' tendency to put labels on a struggling student often actually thwarts that student's progress. When a student gets a disability label, he or she is often segregated from the rich instruction peers enjoy–and gets stuck receiving remedial instruction that demotivates and keeps that student behind.
Kyle Redford ("Dyslexia: Disability or Difference?") has a different take on "to label or not to label," especially for students with dyslexia. Redford acknowledges that dyslexia confers some advantages so that perhaps it's time to stop labeling it a "disability" and celebrate it as a "neurodifference" (a point Fernette Eide also makes in the online-only article "Recognizing Dyslexia's Strengths in the Classroom"). But Redford gives this caveat:
Before we declare that dyslexia need not be categorized as a learning disability, we have to recognize how dyslexia expresses itself in academic environments … My dyslexic students still have to work harder than their non-dyslexic counterparts, and many activities take them longer … So instead of rushing to uproot the word disability, we must first appreciate the purpose and protections that it confers upon the individuals it covers. Dyslexia advocates have fought long and hard for policies that support dyslexics in school settings …. If dyslexia were not a learning disability, dyslexics would not need these critical protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act to succeed in school.
In "How Did You Get to Harvard?" Thomas Hehir maintains that it's not the presence or absence of a label that makes the difference in whether a student with a learning difference flourishes. It's whether that learner identifies strategies that help her or him compensate for the challenges—often with the help and encouragement of a teacher. Hehir interviewed 16 Harvard students with a disability about how they overcame difficulties associated with that disability to get to the Ivy League.
In "IEP Meetings: Building Compassion and Conversation," Janice Fialka and Emma Fialka-Feldman take on how to make these meetings more of a true partnership–how we can help family members feel supported rather than intimidated and reap the benefit of parents' knowledge about their kids.
Copyright © 2017 by ASCD
Subscribe to ASCD Express, our free e-mail newsletter, to have practical, actionable strategies and information delivered to your e-mail inbox twice a month.
ASCD respects intellectual property rights and adheres to the laws governing them. Learn more about our permissions policy and submit your request online.