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There is Nothing 'Special' About Special Education

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When I was in school (over 30 years ago), there were a few kids in my school who were known as "SPEDs" as they were in the special education program at my junior high school. I remember that these kids looked different from the others. They had Down's syndrome or other distinctive physical signs of some type which to me indicated that they needed special education. At least, that's what I thought about special education.

Just like all of the other little girls, I married my "prince" and got pregnant. And it was a pretty uneventful pregnancy and babyhood. Until my beloved first-born son went to preschool where I discovered that he had difficulty following directions, used his hands on children rather than speaking to them, and was generally a handful!With some speech therapy, thankfully the crisis was averted and all was fine.

So naturally, when my second son was born, I again noticed the speech delay and quickly dialed the familiar number of my speech therapist. Soon, it was clear to me that my second son was delayed and impaired in other areas (as compared with his peers). He could not function in a regular classroom. This meant that he was classified for special education. He was an adorable little boy with big brown eyes; he looked like all of the other children. After many, many evaluations, someone finally said to me, "Mrs. Rudin, your son is on the autistic spectrum." The Center for Disease Control estimates that between about one in 80, with an average of one in 110, children in the United States has an ASD (or autistic spectrum disorder). Special education? Was my kid a "sped?" More importantly, how would he ever recover? Would it be in a basement classroom filled with other impaired children? How could he ever become "normal" without role models?

I quit my job and set about educating myself in the world of special education. How would my child's learning needs be met? He was a child who couldn't function alone with the social and learning expectations of a regular classroom yet he didn't fit into the "dungeon" of special education classrooms. He was like the "bear's porridge" neither hot nor cold. He was somewhere in-between; he required modification but not to the extent of isolation. What I really learned, and this was 12 years ago, was that there was nothing "special" about special education. In fact, it was a dead-end. Here were many children who were classified by the public school system early in their educational processes. Many times, they were "sentenced" to a lifetime of special education. I recall visiting a "lite" special education class and asking the teacher what the matriculation rate was to mainstream. She casually commented that she didn't remember the last time a child had "progressed" to mainstream learning. I ran away crying. I put all of my efforts, sweat, tears and money into this child. I spent eight years of my life creating a custom "team" and driving him around to each of the dedicated therapists, devoted tutors and other medical professionals. I was feeling my way in the dark. This child would "not be left behind." I learned that it does "take a village to raise a child."

Luckily, he has certainly progressed from the deep dark "threat" of special education. I am do mean luckily. I know many children who had the same type of intervention but not the same results. And, thankfully, special education itself, has been "promoted" and made some progress during the past years. There are more children than ever being diagnosed with learning differences, and social skill deficiencies. This influx of children into our already strained and precarious educational systems is requiring school districts, teachers, parents and even kids to rethink what the term "special education" means. And although there have been many fabulous and innovative programs developed in some school districts, there is a huge lag between regular education offerings and special education offerings. Surely as a country, we should be able to offer more to some of our most needy children.

A National Reform Act for Special Education would set standards that each school district would have to maintain. These classrooms would be bright cheery happy places just like regular education classrooms instead of the afterthought in the basement.The village would be in place to help raise these children.

Thankfully, my "special" son has now entered high school and has been "mainstreamed" since kindergarten. Despite his many naysayers, he is the product of carefully selected programs and teachers, therapists and my own private money all of which has helped this once special education student become simply "special."