Monday, May 30, 2016

7 Things NOT to say to Someone with a Learning Disability

The Inclusive Class is so pleased to post this article submitted by Lachrista Greco. Lachrista was a guest on The Inclusive Class Podcast several years ago, sharing her experience growing up as a student in special education. Today, we welcome her back with this very insightful blog about learning disabilites!

As someone with two learning disabilities, I have experienced firsthand some pretty ridiculous questions and statements regarding my disabilities. In third grade, after much testing, I was diagnosed with Dyscalculia (the math version of Dyslexia), and Language-Processing Disorder (a disability which makes it difficult for me to process information I receive and to then regurgitate this information either on paper or verbally. It also makes it difficult for me
to retain information).

Learning Disabilities are commonly misunderstood, even though 4.6 million Americans report having one. This type of disability is treated as “less than” physical disabilities. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “seven out of ten parents, educators, and members of the general public incorrectly link learning disabilities with intellectual disability” (NCLD, 2014). Because learning disabilities are invisible, those of us with them are treated poorly, and often not believed.

Without further ado, I give you 7 Things Not to Say to Someone With a Learning Disability:

1. “You don’t look like you have a disability.”
I have legit been told this before. Yes, much of this is ignorance, but please refrain from saying this to someone. There are many types of disabilities, and not all disabilities are visible ones.

2. “What happened?”
Most of us are born with them. For whatever reason, our brains are wired differently. It doesn’t mean we experienced some form of trauma in the womb or as young children.

3. “I would never think YOU had a learning disability!”
Newsflash: all types of people have learning disabilities. These disabilities don’t discriminate based on age, race, gender, etc. This is rude, because it’s incredibly judgmental. It really shows a person’s ignorance. Saying this to someone with a learning disability can really invalidate our experience and our diagnosis.

4. “Oh, do you have Dyslexia? I’ve heard of that.”
We don’t all have Dyslexia. There are many different types of learning disabilities. Please don’t assume that we all have the same one.

5. “Are you sure you’re not just using this as a crutch?”
One of my middle school science teachers asked me this. It was extremely hurtful, but I didn’t have the language at the time to articulate why. Saying this to someone with a learning disability is completely inappropriate. Asking this assumes we are lying about our disability and our need for accommodations. I’m not using it as a “crutch.” It’s all I know.

6. “Why are you allowed extra time on a test/project/etc? That’s unfair!”
Actually, it’s not unfair. All through school, part of my IEP (Individualized Education Plan) was to be given extra time for tests. Because tests are created in a one-size-fits-all way, giving a person with a learning disability extra time allows for somewhat of a level playing field. It takes many of us longer to process information, and then to show that information in the form of a test, so the extra time is necessary. Having extra time on a test never gave me a leg up--trust me--I did poorly on several tests even WITH extra time.

7. “I can help you overcome this!”
No. You can’t. This statement assumes a) you think you know what we’re dealing with, and b) that we must obviously want to be “fixed.” Learning disabilities don’t get better with time. Those of us with them just learn how to work with them more, and not against them. There is no “overcoming” our disability. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to. It’s a part of my identity. It’s a part of who I am, and how I think.

Lachrista Greco is a writer, speaker, activist, and Trauma-Informed/Adaptive yoga instructor. She is also the founder and CEO of Guerrilla Feminism, a global feminist resource network for activists. Lachrista has spoken at colleges, universities, and nonprofits about digital activism, learning disabilities, ItalianitĂ , domestic and sexual violence, and yoga. She has published two books. Lachrista lives in Madison, Wisconsin (with pieces of her heart in Rome), and plays BeyoncĂ© songs on her ukulele. Follow her on Twitter or check out her  website @

Sunday, May 15, 2016

10 Tips to Help You Advocate for Inclusive Education

Years of research and experience tells us that inclusive education, which is the practice of educating all children of all abilities in one classroom, is the gold standard. 

However, many schools still have classrooms where children with disabilities are educated away from the rest of the student population. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally enacted in 1975 and with many revisions since, provides guidance to educating children with disabilities. Though the word, “inclusion”, isn’t specifically used in the IDEA, it mandates that children with disabilities be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment.

Being well-informed about the philosophy and practice of inclusion is your first step in this journey. Here are some suggestions to help you successfully advocate for inclusive education:

1. To ensure your child receives a successful inclusive education, it's important to know the definition of inclusive education. There are many terms and definitions associated with inclusion. There are several reliable resources that describe inclusion, including this video on The Inclusive Schools Network site

2. Find out the federal laws that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has mandated to support the education of students with disabilities. is a great place to get to know the law in easy-to-understand language. Understand the function of a 504 Plan and an Individual Education Plan and ways in which they can be used to promote inclusion.

3. Get familiar with the research that supports inclusive education. Inclusive education has been proven to be beneficial to the social, academic, physical and emotional growth for both students with and without disabilities. 

4. Learn your school district’s history with inclusive education. Have they been known to bus students with special needs to magnet schools miles away from your neighborhood? Or, do they provide supports in neighborhood schools? Are there schools that are very inclusive or schools that have segregated classrooms? A phone call to the school district office can often answer those questions and prepare you for future conversations.

5. Reach out to national organizations such as MCIE, TASH, and The ARC, who support the inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life, including school. 

6. While advocating for an inclusive setting for your child, you need to be willing to provide all relevant information about your child’s special needs to the appropriate school personnel.  Being honest and upfront about your child’s strengths and weaknesses will be helpful in deciding what types of supports are needed in and around the school. Parents can give schools comprehensive information to provide a greater understanding of the child’s needs and abilities. For example, parents can easily identify what will work and not work in certain situations such as transitions, large groups or recess time. If applicable, tell the school if your child is being included elsewhere or has prior experience with inclusive settings. You can offer to bring in videos and pictures as examples of how your child is included in the community.  By providing this information in an open and honest manner, either through conversation or a portfolio, the stage can be set for successful inclusion.

7. Have a few inclusive education resources on hand to share with school staff.  These resources can be in the form of hand-outs, books, videos or photos which can be easily found online or in a bookstore. Brookes Publishing has numerous professional books about inclusive education. First, these resources help inexperienced staff envision what inclusion looks like. Second, resources can offer guidance in how inclusive schools operate, how classwork is handled and ways in which students can be included. 

8. Look for resources in your community. Many communities have organizations that offer training and support for inclusion. Tapping into outside agencies can provide extra materials and expertise. 

9. Find others who have gone before you and ask for their ideas and suggestions. Learn from their experiences, take notes, and ask questions. Facebook and Twitter are great places to connect with others who are in similar situations or have advice.

10. Know that inclusive education is not a program that can be handled by one classroom teacher. It requires a system of support from the principal to the teacher, bus driver, lunch supervisor and recess monitor. Your child’s inclusion will also require your participation. You will need to be available for meetings, respond to correspondence, and regularly communicate with your child’s teacher. Don't forget to take notes of names, dates, and conversations you've had with district personnel.

Parents can face many challenges when seeking an education for their child with disabilities in the American public school system. For example, how do parents find the most appropriate education for their child’s specific needs? How do they know if it is the most ideal situation? Will their choices be supported by school personnel, and if they aren’t, how do parents advocate for a more suitable placement? Finally, what if the school's vision of education does not align with yours? 

It can be an uncertain time but can be made more bearable by doing some research and knowing a few key strategies for advocacy.