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Support for Children with Disabilities

All parents want to see their children thrive in school, but when your child has a disability, this goal can seem out of reach. The parents of children with disabilities fight every day to get their children a fair education that ensures they continue to grow. This extra work compounds the already heroic task of parenting. As the parents of a son with autism, we face these hardships every day, like millions of other American families. 

When our son was diagnosed with autism, we were able to get him the resources he needed. We’ve been able to see him make incredible progress in and out of school. 

The proper resources and intervention can be invaluable, particularly early on. As a country, we should provide ample resources to parents to intervene and support the development of children with autism or who are exceptional in other ways. All children with disabilities have something unique to offer, and giving them tools to succeed will make our families and society richer.

We’re not the first political family, or first family with a presidential candidate, with autism in their family. But for whatever reason, it’s swept under the rug. This makes zero sense. In America, we celebrate our differences, and investing in and elevating our youth with disabilities is a critical step in the transition to a human centered country.

– Andrew & Evelyn Yang

 

Background

Disabilities come in many forms, from developmental and intellectual disabilities to physical disabilities, all requiring different types of support and assistance. For example, learning disabilities range from ADD, ADHD, Auditory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, and language processing disorders, to other categories. 6.4 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and 1/5 students have a language-based learning disability, most commonly, dyslexia. Psychiatric and developmental disabilities include autism, Tourette Syndrome, and severe anxiety and depression.1, 2 Autism alone includes a range of disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and aspergers syndrome. Many children also have physical disabilities, including vision loss, deafness or hard of hearing, and lack certain motor functions, that require the use of assistive technology and mobility devices. 

Schools are required to provide Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) for any student with a disability. These plans are required to assess a student’s unique needs and create a specific learning goal. Approximately 14% of students in public schools require IEPs.3 The problem is that due to limited funds, many schools have trouble providing adequate resources to help these students achieve the goals laid out in their IEPs. Students with a disability are twice as likely to face suspension and often get kicked out of school.4 A lack of appropriate federal resources is a large contributing factor in the school-to-prison pipeline for individuals with psychiatric or behavioral disabilities. 

Even where there is funding, many parents are not aware of the resources available to them, so they are less able to advocate for their children’s needs.5

Addressing the needs of children with disabilities goes beyond the classroom. Families also need more support at home. Any effective plan must acknowledge the critical role of parental involvement in the success of their children. By supporting the families of children with disabilities, we can provide critical assistance to the student.

All children deserve an equal opportunity to grow together mentally, socially, and emotionally through education. Children with learning, social, or physical disabilities require dedicated resources in the classroom to have access to the same developmental opportunities as their peers. Providing resources to foster an inclusive learning environment is crucial. Not only because it is the law, but also because it furthers our humanity.

This failure to support our children with disabilities and their families is both a national and a local problem. We need to provide communities with the resources they need to come together and tackle this problem effectively. My plan outlines how we elevate and expand inclusive education in four key dimensions.

As President, I will…

  • Implement early detection solutions to ensure that all children with disabilities receive the early intervention they need to succeed.
  • Fund research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) on new innovative intervention techniques.
  • Commit $50 billion in educational resources for support and inclusion for children with disabilities, and promote a culture in schools of acceptance for all.
  • Emphasize the importance of providing family assistance outside of schools.
  • Encourage community building and network support for families with children with disabilities.

1. Early Detection and Intervention

Students with disabilities face an uphill battle to receive the education they deserve. One way to make that battle easier is to get an early diagnosis of the disability where possible. An early diagnosis helps parents understand and meet their child’s needs, especially in the case of a disability like autism, which can be identified in children as young as 18 months.6 Studies show that children enrolled in autism-oriented education from a young age greatly improve their ability to integrate into society.7

There are simple steps we can take to identify disabilities at an early age. We can raise awareness about the many types of disabilities by reaching out to parents. This allows families to recognize and interpret their children’s behavior. Professional childcare and health professionals should be trained to recognize the early indicators of disability. This facilitates an encouraging social support network to identify young students with disabilities and connect them to relevant support programs. Schools should have better resources to provide individualized development and monitoring plans to ensure children with disabilities are diagnosed, and their progress is measured. 

To ensure all children with disabilities have an equal opportunity to succeed, we must pay special attention to children in the foster care system and see to it that they, too, are screened for disabilities. These children are most likely to fall through the cracks and go undiagnosed, not receiving the essential support of an early intervention.

Disabilities are most diagnosed in the classroom, where different learning styles and social interactions are on full display. Since children spend significant time with day care staff, we should train those on the frontlines to detect the signs of common disabilities. We also need to get children in classrooms before the age of 5 where teachers and trained professionals are able to detect early signs that need to be addressed. By training staff and expanding access to early education, we can dramatically improve our ability to diagnose and treat young students. 

As President, I will…

  • Establish access to free education starting from age 3.
  • Train school and medical staff in identifying early signs of disability.
  • Establish training for daycares to help them identify early indicators of learning disabilities detection.
  • Increase monitoring for children in foster care with trained medical professionals covered through Medicare for All.

2. Educational Resources:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires schools to provide students with disabilities the services and support they need, at no cost to their parents. IDEA also makes a promise that 40% of all costs for children with disabilities in public schools will be covered by federal funds. Today, the total cost of special education to public schools is approximately $82 billion. However, Congress is covering less than 15% of the funds they promised.8

Because Congress is $20 billion short of its promise, many states have to cut funding from other educational programs only to provide assistance that remains poor quality.9 Most often, funding is taken away from regular teacher’s salaries which causes the overall quality of teaching to go down for all students. Schools in rural communities suffer the most.  

Nationwide, there is a critical gap of 300,000 special education teachers. Congress needs to live up to its promise by providing the original $32 billion it pledged to public schools to cover 40% of the cost of special education. This money needs to be given directly to communities so that they can get more educators certified in special education through free training and loan forgiveness programs. Similar incentives should also be applied to social workers, learning specialists, and mental health counselors who can help parents navigate their local special education system.

But we must go further. My plan would provide public schools with a $50 billion IDEA expansion plan to fully fund the total cost of special education in public schools. This expanded funding would go towards programs in existing schools and new schools that are designed to address the unique needs of all children. These efforts should emphasize inclusion and integration, ensuring that children with disabilities can learn and grow alongside their peers who don’t need extra support. IDEA funding can be used to transition 21st century classroom design to smaller class sizes with flexible models where children with disabilities can learn in smaller groups with personalized instruction based on their individual learning styles. 

We should invest in efforts like restorative justice for youth programs in schools to help end the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects students of color with disabilities.10 Schools need to move away from exclusionary discipline where students as young as 6 or 7 might be suspended from school for normal “temper tantrum” behavior. Children, especially those with disabilities, are routinely locked in isolated rooms as punishment. In Illinois, a recent report found thousands of cases in which kids were locked away for behavior like ripping up a worksheet.11 This form of discipline has no therapeutic or educational value, and is deeply traumatic.To teach older students with disabilities, we must de-emphasize standardized tests and focus more on soft skills like time management and self advocacy and do more to help them develop executive functioning and social development. Learning these skills will lead to healthier, better equipped young adults. These are critical to their transition into college or the workforce, where resources are often available, but can be difficult to access.

As President, I will…

  • Demand Congress live up to its pledge to provide $20 billion in special education funds.
  • Commit $50 billion in expanded IDEA funding to meet 100% of funding requirements for children with disabilities in public schools, to promote inclusion and integration.
  • Provide incentives to get more educators certified in special education and increase the supply of social workers through free training or loan forgiveness programs.
  • End the school-to-prison pipeline, exclusionary school discipline mentality
  • Pass legislation that prohibits seclusion in schools that receive federal funds.
  • Support better transition programs in primary and secondary education, as well as independent living. 

3. Assistance for Families in School and at Home:

Learning of a child’s diagnosis can be devastating for parents because they aren’t aware of the resources available to their children to help them succeed. I spoke with one mother who said she laid in bed and cried after her son was diagnosed with autism. “We thought the world had ended – his world, our world, it would just be a permanent part of our life moving forward.”

Parents need to be educated on the types of resources available to assist their children in schools. Many resources exist, but parents often don’t know about them. School districts should be mandated to hold open info sessions to educate about available resources. Additionally, we need to ensure that all families have access to experts through full IDEA funding. Federal interest fee loans could help families enroll their children in critical programs without taking on a huge financial burden. Schools should also provide “coaches” for families of children with disabilities to help them navigate through the system. 

Parents need to receive proper education on the different types of treatment options outside of school to determine which methods work best for their family. For example, treatment methods like Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), when used appropriately alongside Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), has worked wonders for many families. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), play therapy, and evidence-based interventions can also be hugely beneficial for children’s emotional and social development. Families need to have access and education to understand all of the different types of treatment options available to assist their children with disabilities. 

But this assistance for families needs to go beyond an integrated classroom. Children with disabilities often require greater amounts of supervision and monitoring. This puts a strain on any household that needs to support a child with a disability. Giving parents small periodic breaks by providing respite hours can be a life saver for parents’ own emotional and mental health. Empowering summer and after school programs with the right resources to include children with disabilities would allow parents time to recharge and tend to their own mental, physical, and emotional needs. Summer camps and after school programs should provide dedicated aides to campers with disabilities so they can learn and play alongside their peers.

As President, I will…

  • Ensure that all families have access to experts through Medicare for All.
  • Provide “coaches” for families of children with disabilities to help them navigate through the system.
  • Provide education and access to evidence-based interventions.
  • Promote inclusivity by equipping summer camps and after school programs with aides that can assist children with disabilities in attendance.

4. Community Building and Support

When struggling at home to care for a child with a disability, it is easy to feel alone. Support networks in communities can help families connect, learn from each other, and take comfort knowing that they aren’t alone. We need to provide resources for communities so that they can better embrace families with children with disabilities.

Communities should have a variety of support systems in place for parents of children over a wide spectrum of abilities. The resources available should include things like public sensory gyms with Occupational Therapists (OTs), support networks for parents of children with disabilities, and play therapy training classes for parents, educators, and caregivers. For example, families could attend public sensory gyms like they do playgrounds, but the gyms will be staffed with experts to help ID risk. Parents can bring their kids, schedule play dates, and meet other parents to help them build networks of support.

We also need to evolve as a society and learn how to talk about our children’s different abilities without fear of stigma. We can accomplish this by emphasizing the social and emotional aspects of learning and by providing educating all teachers and caregivers about neurodiversity, not just special educators. This will provide great social benefits to students with disabilities, and create a culture of acceptance for different neurological types. Currently, programs like Nest are limited in scope to help students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, but their key principles of collaboration and true inclusion provide a great blueprint for future special education models.

As President, I will…

  • Provide resources for communities so they can have a variety of support systems in place for parents or children with disabilities. 
  • Work to remove the stigma associated with disability by educating the community. 
  • Provide inclusiveness training for all teachers.
  • Promote autism and neurodiversity acceptance.

 

Footnotes:
1 – https://www.addrc.org/adhd-numbers-facts-statistics-and-you/
2 – https://www.dyslexiacenterofutah.org/Statistics
3 – https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp
4 – https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/2013-14-first-look.pdf
5 – https://www.yalelawjournal.org/pdf/705_e7p31wey.pdf
6 – http://myasdf.org/media-center/articles/early-intervention-makes-a-huge-difference-for-autistic-children/
7 – https://www.autismspeaks.org/science-news/early-intervention-toddlers-autism-highly-effective-study-finds
8 – https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget19/justifications/h-specialed.pdf
9 – https://www.ncld.org/archives/action-center/what-we-ve-done/idea-full-funding-why-should-congress-invest-in-special-education
10 – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/interrupting-the-school-t_b_8244864
11 – https://features.propublica.org/illinois-seclusion-rooms/school-students-put-in-isolated-timeouts/

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