Negative Assumptions about Students with Disabilities

Yes, we are all more than our diagnosis, but negative assumptions about students with disabilities run rampant in our culture.

Often kids with learning disabilities are seen as less intelligent or competent by peers or adults.  Sadly, they may begin to believe that they are ‘less than,’ lower their expectations for themselves and isolate from friends. 

The current trend in US education is towards the integration of different types of learners in elementary and secondary school classrooms, not creating homogeneous learning situations. These diverse environments help break down barriers between young people and offer valuable opportunities for them to connect. They reduce the stigma associated with having a learning disability and being seen as ‘different’ in a judgmental light.  A child who may be dyslexic but quick with math will see other students who also juggle their own strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps someone writes well but spells poorly or another student excels at algebra but struggles with geometry. Maybe the kickball game at recess levels the academic playing field and what happens in the classroom is long forgotten with a winning home run. 

In my book, “What your ADHD child wishes you knew: Working together to empower kids for success in school and life,” I interviewed dozens of kids with ADHD who told me, overwhelmingly, that they do not like being singled out because they have ADHD. They consider it a part of who they are—not the whole story—and they are trying their best to figure out how to accept the brains they have and spend time doing what they love. Often, they turn to non-ADHD friends for feedback, guidance and support. One high school senior told me that she really benefits from doing homework with her non-ADHD boyfriend because he notices when she’s spacing out and calls her back to the task at hand. Another boy is grateful to his group of friends who patiently repeat something in a group conversation if he misses it as they all laugh together. These kids want to do well and fit in as much as any teen. 

Inclusion programs provide essential interactions and relationships between kids, replacing feelings of isolation with normalcy. Ultimately what matters is who a person is, not what they can or can’t do. Kids are much more likely to take this perspective when they have natural, unforced contact with each other.