Disabilities and What they mean for School

In recent years there has been progress when it comes to some disabilities. Not all disabilities have a stigma or a damaging effect on a persons life, so why can’t we work to make disabilities a more accepted part of life. In the developed world, getting glasses is something that wouldn’t be questioned at all. People who have issues with sight have easy access to getting glasses and people don’t demean them for using glasses. It is likely that the reason wearing glasses is so accepted is because 6 out of every 10 people need some sort of corrective lens. We, as a community, need to work on understanding disabilities.

There is a variety of disabilities and a variety of barriers that make it difficult for a variety of people. With education, this is definitely a problem that we can fix, so it makes sense for this to start with schools. Learning disabilities and other cognitive problems are often diagnosed while someone is still in K-12 education. Dyslexia is something that hinders a child from being able to be as successful in a way that schools measure. A website that recently went viral shows what it is like to be a dyslexic person who perceives the symbols on a page moving (this is not apparent in all cases of dyslexia, but it is fairly common). Dyslexia effects around 20% of the population, according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

The Center advocates for dyslexic people who are diagnosed and to increase awareness because of the amount of people who go untreated. Because dyslexia causes a reader to take longer to comprehend what they are reading, they will need more time on tests. Despite this, many high stakes tests have time limits and don’t accommodate those who need more time. In addition, the Center points out that many students of color who have dyslexia aren’t diagnosed. Here is a link to free tips from the Center about how to accommodate dyslexic students.

The issue with doctors not diagnosing certain groups of people is more common than you’d think and this sort of stigma isn’t something based in science, it’s based in a lack of understanding. This is a wide problem in mental health issues and recently was brought to my attention by the book we are reading had the statistic that said that 1/3 of children living in violent urban neighborhoods have PTSD, which can be easily mistaken for ADD. The book states that this will disproportionally effect poor students and students of color and can directly impact their performance in schools. Schools are not able to keep up with the mental health issues that students are facing. Here at UNC that has been a problem and there was a recent article about that. UNC has on campus trained professionals who are equipped to help students. If this is an issue at a University with thorough on campus health services, imagine what it would be like at understaffed public schools. The Association of School Nurses reports that

Students in a quarter of the nation’s public schools do not have access to a school nurse, according to the NASN.  Fewer than half (45 percent) of all public schools have a school nurse all day, every day, and another 30 percent have a school nurse who works part-time in one or more schools. Wide disparities exist between and within states and school districts.

Without school nurses and with teachers who are overwhelmed with large class sizes, students whose parents work long hours or cannot afford to take their kids to the doctor and especially not to a specialist will not be diagnosed. This lack of proper diagnosis and treatment will be most pronounced in girls and students of color who are often already biased against when it comes to health care.

Recently, a friend of mine was posting on twitter a variety of stuff about autism. Her older brother was diagnosed for autism and when her parents asked about a diagnosis for her the doctor said she probably had ADHD but she couldn’t have autism because “girls don’t have autism”. Besides that being a totally untrue statement, it potentially denied her treatment that could help her. This issue of doctors not diagnosing girls with autism, whether outright like that doctor or subconsciously, is larger than you would think. For every 4 boys diagnosed with autism there is only 1 girl. There are reasons to suggest this gap, such as girls with autism are better at masking their symptoms, girls tend to be more withdrawn about their symptoms while boys are more disruptive, and the symptoms are different.

A study showed that girls were more likely to have teachers not notice their symptoms and the researchers explanation was that it was because girls were less likely to publicly show their symptoms and would instead pent up their feelings until they got home. No matter what, the issue of subconscious assumptions and biases affecting the diagnosis, and therefore treatment, is something that everyone (especially teachers) should be aware of.

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