The term regular school doesn’t mean no children with special needs (CSN) are enrolled. CSN can be sitting inside your classroom even without you noticing. They can pass your tests, get promoted to the next level without your knowing that they have special needs.
As special education (SPED) has boomed in the past decades, more and more students are assessed of having exceptionalities (mind you, exceptionalities are not diseases or abnormalities). From behavioral to cognitive, your students may be part of the supposedly growing number of CSN.
It isn’t easy having a CSN inside your classroom for so many different reasons. And recently one of these reasons I learned is the issue of labels for I believe labels are necessary to strengthen my role as a teacher to CSN.
Labels are names with stereotypes annexed to them. For instance being labeled as “Austistic” (even though this has already been replaced with Child with ASD for Autism Spectrum Disorder) stereotypically means you look and act weird . Being labeled ADHD means you are mischievous, aggressive, magulo/makulit again without any rational proof.
Labels therefore negatively affect both the student and the parents involved specially when the exceptionality is prominent (i.e. a child with ADHD who shows aggressive playfulness inside the classroom). Although not every CSN is stereotyped or boxed out, the child may be unwittingly considered by his or her classmates as someone who has an abnormality or someone who is bad and should therefore be avoided. These kids cannot be blamed altogether as they get hurt sometimes by impulsive actions of their CSN classmates (i.e. ADHD). In addition, these preconceived notions of children regarding CSN is greatly affected by stereotypes held by their parents. Consequently, parents of CSN feel bad for their child. Who wouldn’t?
Because of these negative stereotypes and connotations parents of CSN might go in denial of their children’s exceptionality. Some parents who get pass denial and starts to accept their child opt for non-labeling (if there is such a term). This means though they know their child has an exceptionality they do not find any reason necessitating that they tell other people of their children’s exceptionality and thus they don’t. In the classroom this may mean they tell the teacher but when other parents ask about their CSN, the teacher is requested (or coerced) not to talk about the exceptionality.
I used the term coerced for as a teacher I am taking a side to this debate in special education–whether to use “labels” or for a better term “classifications” or not. As I have stated earlier, classifications are necessary to empower the teacher to do what is best for CSN or for children in general.
In the United States labeling or classification is required for CSN to receive of special education services such as disability or exceptionality ( Labeling and Eligibility for Special Education). Unfortunately, Philippine Republic Act 7277 or the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons, in my opinion, has a weak stand regarding labels and classifications.
Why do we need classifications specially for regular schools? Here is my list.
- Just like doctors who first diagnose patients to identify what needs to be addressed, teachers need to identify who has exceptionalities in the classroom to maximize that child’s potential without expecting too much or too little from him or her.
- Euphemisms for exceptionalities such as “makulit lang” for children with ADHD prevents people from understanding what needs understanding. Euphemisms only support surreptitious gossip and unfair labels that work in the minds of other children, parents and even teachers.
- Exceptionalities are not diseases. A child has ADHD. So what?
- Children are not innocent, non-thinking beings who are insensitive of their classmates’ exceptionalities. Instead of avoiding the topic of special needs why not discuss this with your students who, even at early grades, has the capacity to understand even at a superficial level. With the internet being part of these children’s lives, their capacity for understanding sensitive issues have increased by a lot.
- The reason why many people argue and fight is because they do not have open communication. I am not saying openly talking about special needs will necessarily bring about peace and understanding in the school setting but at the very least it will foster efforts for talking, processing, understanding differences among individuals whether it be exceptionalities or mundane uniqueness.
I know this is very ideal. I know I do not have an inkling how parents of CSN feel. I can only imagine. But as a teacher, I need classifications to help students who are CSN, to help other parents realize that there are CSN who need the support of society, to teach my students that differences are to be embraced, to teach everyone that the world needs love and understanding.