14% of all public-school students received special education services in 2019. And yet, the misguided notion that special education students represent a statistically insignificant population persists. This is one of many misconceptions about special education that, while not always harmful, can leave the public misinformed about this pivotal branch of education—and at worst, can result in exceptional learners being left behind as a result of the well-meaning but mistaken intentions of parents and educators.

The three myths we’ll be discussing are by no means the only ones hindering educators in their mission to give students equal access to education, but they are some of the most pervasive. By dispelling these myths, we hope to help educators foster inclusive learning environments where students with disabilities are not only accommodated but welcomed.

Myth #1: All Disabilities Are the Same

Speaking with Education Week, Darya Iranmanesh recounted her struggles at the age of 9 to receive specialized instruction in her weekly dance class. “I had asked [the teacher] several times to place me in the front, but I remained in the back,” said Iranmanesh. “Learning the dance was nearly impossible with the view I had …” At a young age, Iranmanesh was diagnosed with Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that rendered her legally blind. Her inability to learn the dance was not due to laziness, as her teacher implied, but rather her teacher’s refusal to accommodate her disability.

The majority of students with disabilities experience cognitive difficulties, but every exceptional learner is unique, and many experience vision, hearing, ambulatory, self-care, or independent living difficulty. Regardless of their disability, these students are deserving of and entitled to a “public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs,” as declared by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Myth #2: All Students With Disabilities Are Taught in a Special Education Classroom

The majority of students served under IDEA (65%) in 2019 spent most of their school day in general classes in regular schools. To put that into perspective, of the 7.3 million students who received special education services, about 4.75 million were able to remain in their classroom and engage with grade-level curriculum alongside their nondisabled peers. This may seem like a sink-or-swim situation, but 80-85% of students with disabilities can meet the same achievement standards as other students as long as they are given specially designed instruction, appropriate access, supports, and accommodations required by IDEA. 

Students with disabilities placed in self-contained classrooms can receive high-quality special education services (i.e., services specially designed to meet their unique needs), but this is contingent upon their teachers’ ability to provide individualized, small-group instruction. To create a truly inclusive classroom, aspiring special education teachers should pursue a master’s degree from an accredited college program.

Myth #3: Childhood Disability Is Easily Diagnosed

There’s no telltale sign that a student has a learning disability, and signs that do indicate the presence of a learning disability, such as difficulty reading, writing, staying organized, or telling time, can be subtle. For example, a student with dyslexia may have trouble expressing their thoughts, learning new words, or organizing written and spoken language, but it’s unlikely they’ll exhibit every sign associated with dyslexia. And while students with learning disabilities may share many of the same signs, struggles, and frustrations, every learning disability is unique.

Diagnosing learning disabilities is an involved process greatly assisted by parents, who can offer insight into their family history and child’s behavior, and teachers, who can report how their student is responding to instruction. Ultimately, the decision to diagnose a student is left to school psychologists, speech-language pathologists, and educational diagnosticians. These professionals use a process called “response to intervention,” which involves monitoring a student’s progress and moving them through tiers of increasing support. Individual and full evaluations can also be used to diagnose a child with a learning disability and determine their eligibility for special education services.

Become a Special Educator at UT Permian Basin

The special education field has grown both in scope and accuracy in the decades since the passage of IDEA in 1975. Yet the misconceptions surrounding special education continue to hinder the efforts of teachers and students, especially the assumption that all students with disabilities are less capable or less qualified than their nondisabled peers. Although they may be limited by physical, mental, or emotional conditions, most of these students can achieve the same level of success as other students if given equal access to education.

With a master’s degree in special education, you’ll be better able to support students with disabilities. The University of Texas Permian Basin offers three special education programs that can help you in this endeavor:

Our online programs will enable you to earn a master’s degree without having to leave your current position. As a graduate student, you’ll learn how to overcome special education challenges by removing barriers to education, assessing students’ needs, and fostering an inclusive learning environment. The knowledge and skills you’ll gain in our online classrooms will help you become a more effective, well-rounded educator. Alternatively, you can use your master’s degree to pursue a career as a special educator. A master’s degree in special education from UT Permian Basin can open the door to new opportunities for both you and your students. 

Apply to one of UT Permian Basin’s online special education programs to dispel the myths of special education and support your students to the best of your abilities.