Dr. Sheldon H. Horowitz
Director of LD Resources, National Center for Learning Disabilities

These are very interesting times for those of us—parents, educators, related service providers, policy makers—who shape the lives of individuals with special education needs. The ways that we deliver instruction and support in schools have morphed from chalkboard to smart board, allowing students to view videos embedded in lessons, work alone or in groups using digital technologies, and get immediate feedback and personalized practice that reinforces content learning. Our understanding of how to make instruction “stick” has expanded dramatically based on fascinating collaborative research between neuroscientists and educators. District-wide models that transform schools to better meet the social, emotional and behavioral need of all students are taking hold across the country. 

What matters most to individuals who face challenges in their daily lives is our commitment as parents and family members, as employers and as a society to take action. That means we must not just appreciate their unique strengths and weaknesses from afar, but recognize and understand the nature of each individual’s challenges and take action personally and collectively, to ensure that they can achieve and contribute as meaningfully as members of their school communities, the competitive marketplace and society. To do so, we must:

  • Be vigilant that assumptions not be made about what they can and cannot do based on labels, but rather based on decisions driven by individualized data.
  • Work hard, as individuals and as a society, to ensure that their civil and educational rights are being protected at all times.
  • Insist that they be provided access to the best quality instruction and support and that our strategies and approaches be research-based and consistent with the universal design for learning.
  • Provide accommodations and modifications as needed.
  • Provide access to (training and support in the use of) assistive technologies.

There is an expression that says “perception is reality,” and this is, for better or worse, often the way many people shape their thinking about individuals with special education needs. As we create the world around us by our thoughts and beliefs, let’s be sure to remember that low expectations breed low outcomes. We must consider both the intrinsic factors that define a “disability” and the ways that we can provide these individuals with opportunities that offer hope, build confidence and lead them to success.