We're all special

Someone threw a statistic at me the other day – 1 in 5 pupils in school now has a Special Education Need (SEN). That got me to thinking – at what point are ‘special’ needs not really special any more?

Anyone on the front lines will know what I mean. SEN booklets grow and grow, pupils with a variety of Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) are labelled, sorted, sifted and given a crutch to lean on. I recall talking to one pupil about maths. He told me that I don’t understand. He has discalcula and so he can never do maths.

In fact he has been told that he has some mild discalculaic tendencies. But it’s easier to throw a medical term at someone than to actually try and solve the problem in front of you.

There was a brilliant example in a recent episode of House (S5, E17) in which a patient with frontal lobe disinhibition turns to his partner and tells her that their daughter doesn’t have an auditory disability, she’s just below average. The episode highlighted a number of issues to me; the need for parents to excuse the fact that half of all children MUST be below average, the need for the medical system to back this up and the need for the educational system to deal with the fallout.

I often joke in the staffroom that I have severe disfootballia. Perhaps we all just need to accept that many people with SEN are not benefitting from being given a label (or worse, an excuse) to hide behind. I can’t see it happening any time soon though…


5 thoughts on “We're all special

  1. dave says:

    Exactly so. I have kids who are more than capable yet claim to be dyslexic….too many parents using SEN as ‘excuse’ if little Johnny is bone idle. And the ones who DO have problems don’t get help as the whole system is swamped as there are too many kids using too few resources.

    We need to rethink things – have you noticed how many kids have asthma nowadays compared with last century when the air was fouler by far than nowadays?

  2. Kerry Turner says:

    I empathise, the list of SEN students at schools seems to grow and grow. Two of my children are quite dyslexic. I’m not precious about it, nor do I make excuses for them nor expect schools to bend over backwards to accommodate them. I do believe that they simply need good teachers. It’s a pity that teachers these days are faced with huge class sizes, with a drive to get through the work quickly and get top results. Less of that and some of the SEN students might fare a little better – with no extra whistles and bells. Couple that with an effective digital learning platform and I’d say that my children (and I can only speak for my dyslexic children) would be fairly sorted.

  3. So true!

    Yes, such labels and diagnoses can be helpful for some folk – it can ‘normalise’ an issue for them that may otherwise been seen as a personal failure or inadequacy. Knowing the issue is related to a ‘condition’, chemical imbalance or some such can be a relief, particularly in the face of school ‘failure’.

    BUT I agree totally that this then can become an excuse – preventing the diagnosed child from being challenged and preventing teachers challenging themselves to modify teaching methods accordingly. That is, lowering expectations of success on all fronts.

    From my perspective all students – and indeed all adults – are ‘special’ in one way or another. We all have our strengths in some areas – AND our significant challenges in others. When kinaesthetic intelligence was being handed out, I definitely wasn’t in the queue! Not just severe dysfootballia but extremely severe dyscoordinatia. šŸ™‚

    Yet children who are like me are not considered ‘special needs’ students within the school system – and are not given a medical label for it. But those students who are kinaesthetically gifted, but weak in linguistic or mathematical intelligence (for example) do get ‘labelled’ in the system.

  4. I have two special educational needs.

    First, I have a form of dyslexia. It results in a number of difficulties for me including poor handwriting (improves slightly with constant use but I am now a keyboard jockey so do not struggle anywhere near as much now) but have a tendency to read everything I type or write 3 times before accepting it as correct. As a touch typist this has now translated to a fresh problem of having certain words I *always type incorrectly and thank $deity for spell checkers that flag up as I go along. I do not auto-correct but the wavy red line helps me spot words on the second read through (usually done as I am still typing further down the sentence). In short … I was not labeled at school, but I was lucky to have a teacher at primary school that explained to me I had a few problems but I could learn techniques to help with this and that I should always strive to improve and not accept it as a reason why I could not achieve. These strategies helped me get a scholarship at a local private school … so they couldn’t have been that bad. I wasn’t formally labeled until I took a test in the Army (I only actually took it to be test subject and found myself labeled!) but I now joke about it … favourite .sigs on emails include ‘Sax, the perfect cure for dyslexia!’, ‘Dyslexia, not a condition but a way of loaf!’ and ‘Slypdexia Stirkes!’

    My second is that I am intelligent. Please excuse me if I sound smug, but I am and I am proud of it. However, I am a lazy devil too and need to be pushed to perform at my best. This is not always recognised, but gifted and talented students *also* have special educational needs … why do we always have to presume it is a negative thing … if we get rid of that stigma then we are closer to getting somewhere.

    Finally … I just thought this was all meant to be covered under differentiation and personalised learning anyway? I know … if only it was so cut and dried.

  5. I prefer the push towards differentiated instruction. Personally, I don’t need every student in my classroom to have a label. Part of my task as an educator is to assess student needs, and design my teaching to those needs. I agree that every student seems to have parents that search for that “Je ne sais quoi” that makes their child unique, and somehow deserving of more services and attention than the normal ones. But you’re correct, we’re all special.

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