Dispelling 11 Common Myths About Kids with Disabilities
Are you wondering how program staff, parents, families, and caregivers can combat the exclusion of children with disabilities? The answer is simple: through awareness, education, and facts. It’s essential to dispel the most common myths about children with disabilities with accurate, research-backed information. That’s why we’re providing you with exclusive resources to help you enhance your organization’s impact on inclusion.
There are nearly 240 million kids with disabilities worldwide, and they are often misunderstood. While some of these misconceptions may stem from a place of good intentions, they can nevertheless be damaging to the child, leading to stigmatization, exclusion, and discrimination.
At Kids Included Together (KIT), we believe that all children deserve to be included and valued. That’s why we’re committed to challenging harmful stereotypes about kids with disabilities every time we see them.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 11 prevalent misconceptions about kids with disabilities and provided evidence-based facts to counter them. This information will help parents, care providers, educators, friends, and families get past the barriers that may prevent them from fully including children with disabilities in their lives, programs, and communities.
Myth #1: Kids with disabilities must be in all special education classrooms and programs.
The evidence says: One common myth about kids with disabilities is that they must be in all special education classrooms and programs. However, this is not true at all. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that children with disabilities receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) possible.
This means that children with disabilities should be educated in general education classrooms to the greatest extent possible, and provided with accommodations and modifications as needed to support their learning. Special education classrooms and programs are only appropriate when a child’s individual needs cannot be met in the general education setting.
Inclusive classrooms are beneficial for all children, as they promote diversity and foster a sense of belonging and community. Children with disabilities who are included in general education classrooms also have the opportunity to develop social skills and form relationships with their peers.
Inclusive classrooms also open up a world of benefits and opportunities for teachers. They get to experience the joys of teaching a diverse group of students and get to experience unique perspectives, finding creative ways to make sure everyone understands the material.
Myth #2: Children who are wheelchair users feel “bound to” or “confined to” their wheelchairs.
The evidence says: For many children who use wheelchairs, their wheelchair is a tool that provides them with greater independence and mobility.
For children with mobility impairments, a wheelchair can provide them with the ability to explore their environment, participate in activities, and interact with others on their own terms. Wheelchairs can also be customized to fit a child’s individual needs and preferences, providing them with comfort and support.
For many children who use wheelchairs, their wheelchair is simply a part of their daily routine. They do not feel “bound to” or “confined to” their wheelchair, but rather view it as a means to navigate the world around them.
We should work to avoid using language that frames the wheelchair as a negative or limiting factor in a child’s life. Instead, we can think about wheelchairs as tools for freedom and independence that contribute to inclusion.
Take This KIT Course Online: Debunking the Myths of Inclusion
Attitudes, beliefs, policies, and resources influence how inclusion is viewed and put into practice in youth programs. This webinar will explore myths of inclusion that sometimes interfere with creating welcoming and inclusive environments for all children.
Myth #3 All disabilities are visible.
The evidence says: It’s true that many disabilities are visibly apparent, but many are not. Forbes reports that of the 42 million Americans who have severe disabilities, 96% of them are unseen.
Some examples of invisible disabilities include:
Autism, Cognitive Dysfunction, Chronic Fatigue, Sensory Processing Disorders, ADHD, Traumatic Brain Injury, Learning Disabilities, Tourette Syndrome, Vision Impairments, Autoimmune Diseases, Seizure Disorders, Trauma/PTSD, Crohn’s Disease, Mental Health Conditions (Anxiety, Personality Disorders, Schizophrenia, Depression)
Just because a disability is not immediately visible does not mean that it is any less real or impactful on an individual’s life. In fact, individuals with non-visible disabilities may face unique challenges in navigating daily life, such as accessing accommodations, managing symptoms, and facing stigma and discrimination.
It’s important to recognize that disabilities are diverse and can impact individuals in many different ways, regardless of whether they are visible or not. It’s also important to respect individuals’ privacy and autonomy when it comes to sharing information about their disability.
Myth #4: Disability is a tragedy and deserves pity.
The evidence says: One of the most pervasive myths about disability is that it is a tragedy that deserves pity. This harmful idea suggests that disabled people are somehow less valuable or less capable than those without disabilities, and that their lives are inherently tragic or pitiable.
Disability is simply a natural variation of the human experience, and disabled people are just as capable, valuable, and deserving of respect as anyone else. Disability is not a personal failure or a tragedy, but rather a natural part of human diversity.
It’s important to recognize that while disability can present challenges and barriers, disabled people are more than their disabilities. They have unique talents, interests, and perspectives that enrich their communities and the world at large. Moreover, many disabled people find strength, resilience, and meaning in their experiences, and do not see their disabilities as something to be pitied.
Instead of pity, disabled people deserve the same respect, dignity, and opportunities as anyone else. This means recognizing and accommodating their needs and contributions, celebrating their achievements, and valuing their inherent value as human beings.
Furthermore, people with disabilities are often portrayed as inspirations or brave disability “fighters.” But, using disability as “inspiration porn” is harmful.
It perpetuates the idea that disability is inherently tragic and can ultimately be very damaging. If children learn their disability is a deficit and can never be viewed as a strength, that can lead to shame, self-doubt, and potentially depression or other mental health challenges.
Journalist, comedian, and advocate Stella Young highlighted the issue of “inspiration porn” in her Tedx Talk, making a very public point that people with disabilities don’t exist to inspire others. They are not there to make others feel better about themselves.
So, how do you recognize inspiration porn?
According to this article from kent.edu, “if the only reason the story is being broadcasted is because of the disability, then the story and recognition are inspiration porn.” This is an important point to keep in mind. That it’s not enough to simply celebrate the achievements of people with disabilities without recognizing their full humanity and agency.
Recognizing inspiration porn is just one step in critically seeking out and taking action on inclusion for all kids. Rather than using and viewing disability as a prop for an ableist narrative.
The next time you see a news story, meme, or article about a person with a disability, take a critical look and ask yourself, is the only reason this story is being told that the person has a disability? If the answer is yes, then it’s probably inspiration porn.
Myth #5: A child’s disability doesn’t always define who they are.
The evidence says: This may be true for some children with disabilities, but it’s important to remember that others do feel that their disability does define their identity and, as such, is a positive part of their existence.
In fact, some disabled people believe that the path they were meant to take in life changed because of their disability.
For example, a professional athlete who experienced a serious injury resulting in loss of limbs may now feel quite fulfilled in their role of helping other injured athletes manage and cope with their own individual disabilities. For those individuals, their disability is a crucial part of who they are and how they define themselves because it has led them down a path in life that would never have been available to them otherwise.
In order to help everyone understand how disability can influence identity, we should always be sure to ask those with disabilities directly how their disability has affected their lives and identity.
Some will say that disability does not define them; others will say that it is an integral part of who they are and why they are unique; still, others will say that while the disability is there, it doesn’t really affect who they are or what they can do. It all depends on the individual’s preferences and life experience, which we should always respect.
Myth #6 Autism is a mental health disorder.
The evidence says: Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is actually a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social communication and interaction, as well as behavior and sensory processing. The CDC describes it as “a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.”
While autism can impact mental health and co-occur with mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression, it is not classified as a mental health disorder. Autism is instead categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
It’s important to understand this distinction because it can impact how autism is perceived and treated. Viewing autism as a mental health disorder can lead to stigma and misunderstandings about the condition, as well as inappropriate treatment approaches that may not address the unique needs of individuals with autism.
Myth #7 Children with hearing impairments can’t communicate.
The evidence says: The bias toward spoken language as the best way to communicate can be potentially damaging. This bias is understandable as the majority of people are able to hear and speak but this bias can lead to exclusion, discrimination, and a lack of accessibility in many areas of life, from education and employment to healthcare and social interactions.
Younger children with hearing impairments can also experience the consequences of this bias. A team of researchers, many of whom have personal experience with hearing loss, published an article in the December 2016 edition of the Social Service Review. The article asserts that a “speech only” approach, which relies solely on technology to facilitate spoken communication, is causing significant harm to many deaf children. The researchers argue that this approach is preventing these children from acquiring language during their critical early years, leading to delays in development, concluding that sign language should be taught as early as possible.
American Sign Language (ASL) is a rich and complex language in its own right, with its own grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Yet, ASL is often viewed as a secondary language, rather than a valid and vibrant primary mode of communication.
To combat this bias, we can work to recognize and value diverse modes of communication, including non-spoken modes like ASL. We can also work to make all forms of communication more accessible and inclusive, regardless of the mode or medium used. This means providing resources and support for individuals who use non-spoken modes of communication, as well as challenging the assumption that spoken language is the “default” mode of communication.
Take This KIT Course Online: Understanding Visual and Auditory Disabilities
15% of children experience hearing loss and up to 50% of children experience vision loss that can impact learning. Join us for an introduction to visual and auditory disabilities, and learn strategies to support children and youth who experience these disabilities.
Myth #8 Children with disabilities can’t participate in sports.
The evidence says: There are numerous opportunities and programs that allow children with disabilities to engage in a wide range of sports and physical activities.
For example, the Paralympic Games provide opportunities for athletes with disabilities to compete in a variety of sports, including swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball. Additionally, there are many inclusive sports programs locally and regionally that provide adaptive sports equipment, coaching, and support for children with disabilities to participate in sports such as wheelchair basketball, adaptive skiing, and hand cycling.
Participating in sports can provide a range of physical, emotional, and social benefits for children with disabilities. It can help improve physical fitness, develop social skills and friendships, boost self-esteem, and promote overall well-being.
It’s important to recognize that adaptive sports and physical activities may look different from traditional sports, and accommodations may need to be made to ensure accessibility and safety.
However, these accommodations do not diminish the value or legitimacy of adaptive sports, nor do they prevent children with disabilities from fully participating and enjoying sports. for kids with disabilities and programs that work to make sports more inclusive for kids of all abilities.
Myth #9 You shouldn’t refer to someone as disabled.
The evidence says: Another myth about disability is that it is somehow disparaging or offensive to refer to someone as “disabled.” This idea stems from the belief that disability is something to be ashamed of or hidden, rather than a natural and valid part of human diversity.
However, using the term “disabled” to refer to someone is not only acceptable but also often preferred by the disability community. It is a neutral and accurate term that recognizes the presence of a disability without defining a person solely by their disability.
Moreover, using person-first language (e.g., “person with a disability” instead of “disabled person”) is not always preferred or necessary. While some individuals with disabilities may prefer person-first language, others may prefer identity-first language (e.g., “disabled person”) to affirm their disability as a fundamental part of their identity.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to listen to and respect the preferences of individuals with disabilities. If someone prefers a certain term or language, it is important to honor that preference. However, assuming that “disabled” is a disparaging term or that person-first language is always necessary can actually be more harmful than helpful.
Learn why inclusion training is critical for all professionals directly working with children of all abilities in our latest blog, and then get in touch to start developing your own inclusive programs.
Myth #10 Making accommodations for kids with disabilities is expensive.
The evidence says: One of the common myths about accommodating children with disabilities is that it’s an expensive endeavor. However, this is not entirely accurate. In fact, many accommodations can be made at little to no cost, such as providing extra time on exams or allowing a student to type their assignments instead of handwriting them.
Furthermore, federal laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require schools to provide necessary accommodations to students with disabilities.
Moreover, taking the time to build a relationship with a child can actually save costs in the long run. When you understand their needs and strengths, you can provide accommodations that are effective and efficient, rather than relying on trial and error or costly interventions that may not be necessary. By respecting their wishes and identity, you can also help create a supportive and inclusive environment that fosters their well-being and success.
So, take the time to get to know the children in your care. Engage with them in conversation, observe their behavior and preferences, and listen to their needs and concerns. By building strong relationships with each child, you can create a safe and supportive environment that honors their unique needs, strengths, and identity.
Myth #11 All disabled children are dependent on others.
The evidence says: It is incorrect to assume that children with disabilities are all completely dependent on others. This is not necessarily true. While some children with disabilities may require more support than others, many are capable of living relatively independent lives with appropriate accommodations.
It’s important to recognize that independence looks different for everyone and that disability does not automatically equal dependence. With the right accommodations, many children with disabilities can achieve a level of independence that allows them to live full and active lives.
Additionally, it’s crucial to avoid assuming that independence is the ultimate goal for all children with disabilities. For some, interdependence with supportive family and friends can be just as fulfilling and meaningful.
Bridging the Gap: Inclusion for All Children
Overall, the philosophy of inclusion is one that many people support and feel strongly about. But when it comes to actually engaging with the issue, many remain on the sidelines, not sure of how to make a difference. This has detrimental effects on everyone, not just children with disabilities.
That’s why debunking common myths about children with disabilities is a starting point from which you can condemn exclusion and take action toward creating an inclusive environment for all children.
Inclusion is the way forward, and KIT can lead the way.
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