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Attaching labels to students with disabilities

Attaching labels to students with disabilities ("mental retardation," "learning disability," etc.) has often been criticized for stigmatizing children unnecessarily. Despite this concern, educators continue to categorize and label students who have special needs. IN three short paragraphs, discuss three reasons why categories of special needs continue to be used.

Despite the disadvantages, most educators continue to classify students with special needs because of the advantages in doing so. Although members of the same category are in some respects very different from one another, they also tend to have characteristics in common; these similarities allow educators to make certain generalizations about how to foster the academic and social development of students in any given category. In addition, special needs categories provide a rallying point around which social and political forces can promote the interests of these students. For example, over the years such organizations as the American Association on Mental Retardation and the Autism Society of America, sand such journals as the Journal of Learning Disabilities and Gifted Child Quarterly have emerged to support these students. Special interest groups are often instrumental in collecting information, supporting and publishing research, and facilitating federal and state legislation to help students with special needs.

But probably the most influential factor affecting educators' use of categories and labels, at least in the United States, is that federal funds, available to support special educational services for up to 12 percent of the student population, are provided only when students have been formally identified as having a particular disabling condition. In accordance with IDEA, federal funds are provided to support special services for students who fall within the following categories of special needs: specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, emotional disturbance, autism, mental retardation, including sever and multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injury, hearing impairments, including deafness, visual impairments, including blindness, and other health impairments.

Special educators do not necessarily use the classification system and labels of IDEA. For example, rather than talk about "emotional disturbance," they might use the term emotional or behavioral disorder. And rather than discuss traumatic brain injury as a separate disability, they might include it under physical and health impairments.

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