Are you concerned about the number of minority children being diagnosed with disabilities in your school district? Are you concerned about the large number of African American children receiving special education services? Are you concerned that your child is a minority group and is eligible for special education? Much has been written in recent years about the increasing number of poor African American children receiving special education services. This article will discuss this issue, as well as the underlying causes for it.
In 1975, when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed, Congress found that poor African-American children received special education far more often than other children. These difficulties continue today. In the IDEA 2004 Findings, Congress stated about ongoing problems with the over-identification of minority children, including the mislabeling of children and high dropout rates.
About 9% of all school-age children are diagnosed with a disability and receive special education services. But African-American children receive special education services at a rate about 40% higher than the national average across all racial and ethnic groups, about 12.4%. Studies have shown that schools with predominantly white students and teachers place a disproportionately high number of minority children in special education.
Additionally, rates of mental retardation and emotional/behavioral disorders are extremely high among the African-American population, approximately double the national average. Within the African American population, the incidence of mental retardation is approximately 220% higher than in other ethnic groups. The incidence of emotional/behavioral disorders is approximately 175% higher than that of other ethnic groups.
Factors that can contribute to disabilities include:
1. Health issues such as prenatal care, access to medical care, infant nutrition, and possible exposure to lead and other contaminants.
2. Lack of access to good quality medical care, as well as services for any mental health disorder.
3. Cultural issues and values or stigma associated with disability
4. Discrimination based on class and race!
5. Misdiagnosis of the child’s academic and behavioral difficulties.
Some ideas that could help reduce overidentification:
1. Better data maintenance to include more information on race, gender, and race-by-gender categories. More detailed, systematic, and comprehensive data collections would provide a better idea of the demographic representation in special education that could help better understand this issue.
2. More analytical research is needed to improve our understanding of the many factors that, independently or in combination, contribute to a diagnosis of disability.
3. More people who are willing to help advocate for children in this situation. I think part of this problem is related to the inability of some special education staff to understand cultural differences.
4. Better and clearer guidelines for diagnosing disabilities that could reduce the potential for subjective judgments that are often cited for certain diagnoses.
5. More improvements are needed in general education to help children learn to read and keep up with their grade and age appropriate peers.
I hope that in time this problem will be resolved so that all children receive a proper education.