Autism’s urban legend

Jen Laviano (@JenLaviano) has a post up this week that mentions my un-favorite urban legend about autism: that there are parents who get their kids a diagnosis so that they can get “extra help” from their school district.

Jen talks about having discussions with parents, friends, relatives, teachers, etc. to explain the value of special education laws and our goals of educating kids who fall into these statutory groups.

Jen, it’s not just friends and acquaintances who ask strange questions with missing premises. The anguish some parents feel is simply incomprehensible for parents of typical kids. I have colleagues, some of whom are also lawyers, and who I know/believe to be generally kind people.

Yet they will repeat (more than once) this urban legend about parents wanting to have their children classified so that their kids will get extra services in school. I have yet to meet one of these parents, of course. I doubt that the benefits of “extra help” will ever overcome the stigma of “special ed” in any parent so focused on the outcome for her typical child.

If you don’t think “special ed” carries any stigma, search twitter for #specialed and see what pops up from people outside of advocates, lawyers, and parents. These folks had to type that in on purpose.

I gently remind them that while that is a hypothetical possibility, it’s easy enough to identify far too many children whose deficits are so great that it absolutely interferes with their daily existence. “Like my son,” I say.

Perhaps that’s one of many “next jobs” on this front: identify these parents so ignorant of the label that they will push NT kids into our wonderfully effective special education system. Because then I can send all my clients’ kids to that school district where special ed works so well.


  1. Rick Colosimo on February 19, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    Jen, you were very clear in your post, and I enjoy reading your blog. I’m sure we’ll meet sometime soon.

  2. Jennifer Laviano on February 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm


    Thanks for mentioning my post on your site; it is greatly appreciated. I just was re-reading it to make sure that you weren’t interpreting it as endorsing in any way what I agree with you is an absolute urban legend, and a harmful one at that!

    My reference to friends, family, etc. whose children I now represent was to the fact that I have known many people over the years who believed in this urban legend (among other myths surrounding special education) UNTIL they became parents of a child with a disability. My point was perhaps in-artfully made, but I want you to be clear that in no way do I believe that “extra help” for non-disabled children is motivating parents into IDEA disputes…at least not the hundreds I’ve met and represented! Thanks again for reading the blog.