Special Education or Adaptive Education?
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Politics and Activism

Special Education or Adaptive Education?

What we consider education for students with disabilities needs to be renamed.

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Special Education or Adaptive Education?
Pretty Prudent

When it became law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was a landmark piece of legislation, for both what it achieved and what it did for millions of American students. I admit that I was a beneficiary of that law, with the 1990 revision signed just days prior to my birth. If you were to ask me my opinion of special education in middle school or even elementary school I would have spoken negatively of it (in part because of the classes I attended), but at the time it was exactly what I needed.

But the language in that law I think is politically incorrect, or at least the term "special education" is politically incorrect, and I think a different term is more appropriate. Adaptive education is truly what we think of special education, making changes to a student's environment or providing accommodations (adaptations) that allow them to succeed. Not only is it more fitting and more accurate, it does away with the term "special needs" as well.

Special education (the term) is clearly outdated. It is I feel a term that is best connected with the disastrous deinstitutionalism movement from the 1960s, where we threw many people who were ill-suited for independent living out on the street.

There's a similar argument in regards to how you refer to someone on the autism spectrum (what those with autism call "identify-first language") and I think something similar applies to special education. We don't really use the r-word anymore, and for good reason. Until I started writing this piece, I didn't realize just how complex the concept of disability language truly is.

To my friends who are educators: what do you think of this idea? Should we rename the term for students with disabilities?

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