Beyond Special Education

An Unbalanced “System”

Leveraging Our Investment

Today’s Children
Our government continues to invest billions of dollars on “special education” each year; however, questions remain pertaining to

  • Where these programs have succeeded, and where they have failed?
  • Was the IDEA intended to support individuals with “disabilities,” as reflected in the title IDEA, OR… to remedy unequal opportunities for children “at risk” (as a result of poor parenting or limited resources).  Should both challenges be approached with the same solutions?
  • What are the long term benefits for individuals once they graduate from high school, or after they turn 21 (whichever comes first), and will no longer be considered “special?”
  • Will the supports students received within the classroom be available to them as adults?  Will these same accommodations, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), be considered reasonable by employers?
  • Can “special education” be effective, if emotional health has not been fully assessed and addressed?

1.  Have mandated reporters been properly educated with regard to the signs of psychological mistreatment (including verbal abuse); which may be more destructive than physical or sexual abuse.  Abuse can be manifested in a variety of ways, and the emotional damage may be difficult to recognize.

2.  Should administrators require students to be screened for psychological injuries, just as they are for visual or hearing impairments?  Emotional abuse must be taken seriously, both in childhood and beyond. 

3.  Just as we have been striving for mental health parity, and promoting the importance of holistic preventative care, which supports the interactive relationship of both the mind and body; we must embrace a holistic approach in providing supports and services to students, who will continue to be influenced by their family units.  In order to treat an individual’s social emotional challenges; care takers, relatives, and siblings must be included in the process.  They are likely to be struggling with a mental disorder of their own, or may have been (or continue to be) victims of abuse, who are repeating the cycle, and victimizing the student.

The Generation Gap

Yesterday’s Children – Still Struggling
The majority of the adult population began school prior to the implementation of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  Subsequent to that date, a good number were never identified as having a disability, due to a lack of teacher training, and limited research in the field of neuroscience.  Many adults experience the long term damage of an untreated disability, which had affected their self-esteem, academic achievement, and career success.  Despite extraordinary persistence and strength, a good number of individuals, who initially struggled because of a learning disability or ADHD, develop anxiety and depression after years of frustration and “bullying,”

Investment – Confused Politicians

The Achieving a Better Life Act (ABLE) was recently enacted to allow parents to create tax free savings accounts for “disabled children,” whose income may be compromised as adults.  Unfortunately, the parents of adults, who were not identified as children…or whose symptoms became more disabling subsequent to turning 26, will NOT be able to provide the same (or as much) security for their children, whose income has already been compromised.

Why aren’t those who were NOT identified before the age of 26 eligible to benefit from the new legislation?

Should those born prior to 1989 (who never received special education services, and until 2014 had little support for mental health treatment) continue to be excluded from benefits provided by the government?

Some may perceive these parameters as a form of age discrimination.  Imagine those who were FINALLY diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 32; and individuals, who discover as adults that they have ADHD (perhaps along with their kids) at 45; and the veterans who return from war at 29 with PTSD.

Was this law created to serve those politicians, who currently have special needs children?

IMPORTANT Considerations

Those born before 1989 (now over 26) will have more difficulty making ends meet, managing their health, and accessing housing because

  the social security is struggling; offering little promise to Baby Boomers.
  they will encounter additional health challenges as they age (in part due to the financial stress of managing a mental illness).
  mental illness has decreased the likelihood of marriage, and establishing a family, or support system.
  their parents will begin to retire (and pass on), and will no longer be able to provide additional financial support, or serve as backup guarantors for bank loans or apartment rentals.

At the same time…those 26 and under, who have had years of government assistance (due to increasing access to special education services, and the broadening definition of disability in recent years) will continue to reap financial benefits, which are NOT available for adults over 26, because their parents do not hae the same to set money aside within the tax free accounts, authorized by ABLE.

Today’s Children in Tomorrow’s Workplace

The ADAAA (2008) affected the interpretation of Section 504.  (See below for more detail pertaining to The History of Disability Law.)  Through the ADAAA, Congress intentionally expanded the ADA, which, in turn, broadened the interpretation of who has access to 504 plans by January 2009.  Students with LD and AD/HD benefited from the new law, because the use of mitigating measures could no longer be the basis for denying 504 plans.  The current generation of students will be accustomed to receiving accommodations when they enter the workforce.

The 1983 Amendments to EHA (PL 98-199), the 1990 Amendments to EHA (PL 101-476), which changed the name to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the IDEA Amendments of 1997 (PL 105-17) supported initiatives for transition services from high school to adult living. Each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), begin at age 14, must include transition plans or procedures for identifying appropriate employment and other post school adult living objectives.

Many students receive supports for mental disorders and learning disabilities, while completing their education. However, individuals whose challenges are NOT “obvious,” rarely obtain accommodations as adults.  According to Barbara Arrowsmith, “Some people think that once a child leaves school that these problems are going to disappear, that they are really educational, but they aren’t.” She described one woman’s experience, while speaking at the Neuroplasticity and Education Conference (October 25, 2013).

…a 26 year old woman, who wrote, “I always thought I just had to get through school, and I would be fine in the real world.  Unfortunately, I could have not been more wrong.  The real world was a hard dose of reality without the comfort of a note getting you out of class.  All of a sudden I had to learn how to get things done well and fast.  Instructions that my bosses would give me, would be jumbled in my head.  Then I would freeze with my anxiety terrified of getting fired, which I always did.  I was drowning in my own life with no life raft.  there were no broken bones that could be fixed with a cast, but a broken mind.  It’s ironic how you can learn to live this way, putting focus on your personality, so no one will really know the truth…which is you are always a step behind.  You learn how to lie and compensate just to get through.”

1 in 4 adults (25%) in the U.S. struggles with mental illness, many of whom were NOT identified as children, and have never received accommodations, differentiated instruction, or the augmentative education needed to develop the skills necessary to manage their emotions, succeed academically, and thrive socially.  See also The Future Workforce.

The History of Disability Law

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was enacted to protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on a disability. The nondiscrimination requirements of the law applies to all programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. The 504 Plan was developed to ensure that children who have disabilities, as identified under the law, and are attending an elementary or secondary educational institution, receive accommodations that ensure academic success and access to the learning environment. A student’s 504 plan spells out the modifications and accommodations necessary for that student to have an opportunity to perform at the same level as his/her peers. A plan might include support services, auxiliary aids, home instruction, or accommodations in public schools, such as wheelchair ramps, blood sugar monitoring, an extra set of textbooks, a tape recorder, or a keyboard for taking notes.

It was not until 1975 that congress passed Public Law 94-142, originally named the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, and later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990. This law mandated programs and services for children 3 to 21 years; consistent with state law.

IDEA has supported the preparation of students for vocational success through new and improved transition programs. The 1983 Amendments to EHA (PL 98-199), the 1990 Amendments to EHA

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) and Section 504 are both civil rights laws that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. Section 504 was enacted in 1973 and applies to all programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. This includes public schools, colleges and universities as well as certain employers, state and local government programs and places of public accommodation (such as public libraries). Both Section 504 and the ADAAA protect students with disabilities from being discriminated against in public schools.

More students may now qualify as persons with disabilities, and are entitled to protection from discrimination based on their disabilities. They also may be eligible to receive special education or general education with related services and reasonable accommodations, including auxiliary aids and services in school, under Section 504.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 included several significant changes, which also apply to Section 504:

  • The definition of “major life activities” was expanded to include learning, reading, concentrating and thinking. And, the definition of “major bodily functions” was expanded to include neurological and brain functions. This change made it easier for individuals with LD and/or AD/HD to qualify for protections under the ADAAA.
  • The act requires the limitation on a major life activity to be more broadly interpreted.
  • Conditions that are episodic or in remission are covered when they are active. For example, a student with AD/HD may be affected by his symptoms differently and at different times and under different conditions. The ADAAA does not disqualify him from protection on that basis alone.
  • A person can no longer be denied protection simply because he uses a mitigating measure, such as medication for AD/HD, or extra time when taking tests to accommodate a learning disability. (The only exception to this is corrective lenses, which fully correct vision problems.)
  • Limitation in one major life activity does not need to impact other major life activities in order to receive ADAAA protection. Some students with disabilities struggle in just one academic area, such as reading or writing, but excel in other skills or subjects and shine in extracurricular activities. These students might now qualify for ADAAA protection; whereas before 2009 they would have been ineligible if they struggled in only one major life activity.

Be Counted!  Illuminate Mental Diversity at Work.
There is safety (AND strength) in numbers. “All for one, and one for all.”

Suggestions, feedback, comments, and questions welcomed at

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© October 2015


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