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Happy Special Education Appreciation Day!

Big kudos to the teachers who devote their lives’ work to uplifting different types learners; encouraging all students to succeed regardless of how many deviations they are away from ‘the norm’.

Special Education is not only a fundamental human rights issue it is a blueprint for social engagement. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides the legal basis for ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. At it’s best, children can reach their greatest potential through accommodations, direct services, environmental and learning support while remaining with more typically developing peers in the least restrictive environment possible. At worst, it allows child advocates and parents the legal impetus to work in the best interest of their child’s needs. The law’s most recent form (2004)  is one our nation’s greatest human rights feats.

As intersectionalists, we should not only applaud this law, we should take note of some of the ways of thinking as a direct result of it. Embedded within multiple layers of Special Education rights and protocols is the idea of inclusion. When implemented correctly, an inclusive classroom is what I imagine an equitable world would be like.

An inclusive classroom is an intersectional dream; a microcosm of a fully engaged community. Here’s 6 Reasons Why Special Education Matters to Intersectional Feminists.

1. Different is not a bad word.  Quite the opposite, being different is appreciated. A truly inclusive classroom does not shy away from acknowledging differences; rather it is a place differences are pointed out and embraced. Just like someone needs insulin, someone else might need ADHD meds, and while someone needs a special pencil, some other friends might need a lumpy pillow, headphones, a weighted vest, or a fidget toy to stay focused. Some of the students might learn through touching and talking while some learn through listening and watching, and some need all these ways to learn and then a few more.

2. Equality doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. Equality means we all get the supports needed to make our learning success more likely. The supports are variable based on a child’s needs.

3. Person First Language. Do you hear a difference between saying “autistic child” and saying “a child with autism”? Child advocates hear it. Children are not their disability; they are children first.

4. Instead of focusing on barriers, these classrooms concentrate on solutions. Yes, time needs to be spent determining what barriers exist, but once established, the focus is on accommodating the needs of a student and moving them forward, not allowing an obstacle to stand in the way of progress.

5. Every child has special needs, and conversely every child is gifted and talented. There will be those who get ruffled by me saying this because everyone likes to have titles. But inclusive classrooms work well because there is a level of self-knowledge amongst all children. To succeed we all need many supports, we all have ways we can or can not be more or less successful. What is normal? Is there normal? Or is there a more a continuum of being and interacting in the world around us. Who determines normal?  And is there any one person who actually believes they are normal? If so, I expect they are anything but normal. It is high time for us to embrace the neurodiversity unique to humankind.

6. Early Intervention. Part C of the IDEA sets forth supports for children with disabilities to receive support as early as possible. At risk children are often monitored from birth. The sooner we recognize and support the potential barriers to success, the better. Early intervention offers support to both caregivers and children. Early intervention in the form of home visiting programs and direct services may eliminate the need for more intensive school age special education or accommodations.
There is much to be learned from the tenants of special education;  providing the least restrictive and most inclusive environment for every child. Imagine if our world concentrated on lifting barriers, finding solutions, accommodating differences and supporting engagement.


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Featured Image: mckinney75402 via Creative Commons


Tanya Swezey Stabinsky is a Silicon Valley native who jumped states to light fires from the desert. Having studied Human Development and Infant Parent Mental Health, Tanya is a child advocate, parenting mentor, feminist Mom of 5 with expertise in mental health, family life, body positive parenting and relationship based leadership as well as best practice in early care and education. At 24, Tanya was considered a young mother; at 39, considered old. In between she has been a single mother, stay at home mother and working mother. She has divorced, remarried and blended an incredible family of activist kids to whom she owes much of her ability to remain relevant and keep asking questions. After years on the floor living her passion through direct work with children, parents and teachers, Tanya is taking a hiatus to write about the real world of parenting (no sugar coating here) and issues closest to her heart via WYV and her own site www.downtoearthparenting.com. But watch out because she is keeping things real and isn't afraid to use bad words to get her point across.

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