5 Ups and Downs of Special Education Labels

Learn about the advantages and disadvantages of special education labels.

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Advantage #1: Identifying a Disability Helps You Help Your Student

Accurately and properly identifying the learning difficulty is an essential first step. Universal interventions help all, but individualized interventions are BETTER. Labeling can be a responsible and necessary step to find specific interventions and supports that target students' specialized needs.

Disadvantage #1: Teachers Can Stereotype Students Based on the Label

Teachers can stereotype students based on the label. Classifying a student with a particular label can cause others to mistake that all traits in the given category apply to the student. School officials need to understand that categories are abstract classifications that are not the be all and end all of the student's abilities.

Advantage #2: By Law, Kids With Labels Have Access to Special Services

Labels are required by educational code for students to receive special education services. Special education classifications given to students make teachers and schools legally responsible for providing services and supports to students.

Disadvantage #2: Special Education Services May Be Costly

Oftentimes the label comes too late. A preventative approach can help students with mild learning problems early on, which may reduce the number of students needing special education. This can also decrease money spent on special education and the stigma of a label.

Advantage #3: Categories Can Help Researchers Find New Solutions

Each category conveys a general idea about learning styles and characteristics. Classifying learning needs with a label helps professionals offer research-based interventions, accommodations, and modifications that are proven to help children with similar learning needs.

Disadvantage # 3: Labeling May Create a Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

Labels shape teacher expectations for the student. This may cause teachers to have lowered standards for the student. Treating students differently based on their special education classifications can inhibit the rate and kind of material students learn. Students may not be challenged to accomplish their full potential.

Advantage # 4: Labels May Help Teachers and Peers Be More Understanding

Classifying students for special education can cause teachers and peers to better tolerate and accept these students for their differences. A label can protect students from ridicule or scolding that would otherwise cause greater blame to those students without a label.

Disadvantage # 4: Labels Can Create a Lasting Stigma

While a label can protect, it can also stigmatize. Special education labels often hinder a child's self-esteem. Special education categories usually focus on what the child cannot do, rather than which skills the child may be able to strengthen or learn.

Advantage # 5: Labeling Helps Spread Advocacy and Awareness

Special education labels highlight the concern for the public. Funding and resources for research are often geared toward helping difficulties grouped together under a common category. Disability-specific advocacy groups (e.g., parents of children with autism) causes individuals to come together to promote certain programs and trigger legislative change.

Disadvantage # 5: There Are Lapses and Loopholes with Labeling

Not all students are accurately labeled. There is an over-representation of minority groups and language learners in special education. Since different states have different eligibility criteria, a student can be diagnosed with a learning disability in one state and denied of special services in another.

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