Distinguishing Disability Parents, Privilege, and Special Education
by Colin Ong-Dean
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-63000-7 | Paper: 978-0-226-63001-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-63002-1
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Students in special education programs can have widely divergent experiences. For some, special education amounts to a dumping ground where schools unload their problem students, while for others, it provides access to services and accommodations that drastically improve chances of succeeding in school and beyond. Distinguishing Disability argues that this inequity in treatment is directly linked to the disparity in resources possessed by the students’ parents.

Since the mid-1970s, federal law has empowered parents of public school children to intervene in virtually every aspect of the decision making involved in special education. However, Colin Ong-Dean reveals that this power is generally available only to those parents with the money, educational background, and confidence needed to make effective claims about their children’s disabilities and related needs. Ong-Dean documents this class divide by examining a wealth of evidence, including historic rates of learning disability diagnosis, court decisions, and advice literature for parents of disabled children. In an era of expanding special education enrollment, Distinguishing Disability is a timely analysis of the way this expansion has created new kinds of inequality.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Colin Ong-Dean is assistant project scientist in the Department of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

REVIEWS

Distinguishing Disability offers a detailed and engaging overview of trends in disability classification, the social dynamics behind category development, and the complex legal system that evolved in response to new conceptualizations of disability as well as past problems with the delivery of special education services. Most importantly, it illustrates how special education works distinctively for children of privileged and disadvantaged social classes. Ong-Dean infuses sophisticated sociological theories about privilege creation and the effects of parents’ cultural capital with poignant quotations from his interviews with parents of each class. He draws from a breadth of studies that are outside the typical parameters of special education research; therefore this book is of particular importance to insiders who think narrowly about their field. Distinguishing Disability should be read by parents, teachers and administrators, lawmakers, and scholars of sociology and disability.”

— Ellen A. Brantlinger, Indiana University

“A careful, rich, and compelling story of how parents’ class privileges determine whether kids labeled ‘disabled’—LD, ADHD, autism, Asperger’s—wind up on the ‘low road’ to a segregated special education dumping ground or on the ‘high road’ to an array of special services, benefits, and support. A must-read for parents, educators, policy makers, and scholars interested in the complex interplay of money, culture, and institutional practices that transforms a system based in democratic impulses into yet another example of the perpetuation of social inequalities.”

— Sharon Hays, University of Southern California

"Distinguishing Disability is a well-argued and supported account of the class divide in the special education process of disability diagnosis and accommodation in public schools. . . . Ong-Dean uses a range of methods to amass an impressive amount and variety of evidence to support his claims."
— Contemporary Sociology

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

- Colin Ong-Dean
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.003.0001
[disabled children, disability, privileged parents, special education, inequity]
This introductory chapter discusses the objective of this volume, which is to examine the historical, cultural and institutional conditions under which parents have advocated for their disabled children in the U.S. for the past thirty to forty years and the relation of these conditions to parents' differing resources and dispositions. This volume argues that the existing special education system is fundamentally inequitable and that privileged parents implicitly contribute to that inequity when they draw on their resources to advocate for their children. (pages 1 - 12)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Colin Ong-Dean
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.003.0002
[Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education act, educational reform, social reform, disabled children, special education, educational rights, disability diagnoses]
This chapter examines how and why the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EAHCA) and its successor, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), have fallen short of ambitious promises for social reform. It explains that the educational rights of disabled children, established in the Act (EAHCA), arose within a broad context of social reform and highlights the limitations of the provisions of EAHCA. This chapter argues that the EAHCA has only succeeded in enabling parents to raise individualized, technical disputes over their children's disability diagnoses and needs. (pages 13 - 38)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Colin Ong-Dean
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.003.0003
[cultural capital, parenting, disabled children, special education, privileged parents]
This chapter provides an overview of research on cultural capital and parenting and analyzes how it might relate to special education. It examines the perspectives and practices of parents of disabled children based on survey responses and interviews. The findings indicate that parents consider themselves to be at least as well informed as their children's schools about their children's disabilities and related needs and that privileged parents use cultural capital to intervene in their children's education. (pages 39 - 62)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Colin Ong-Dean
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.003.0004
[disability diagnoses, parental practices, disability, learning disability, privileged children, mental retardation, autism spectrum disorders]
This chapter examines how disability diagnoses and parental practices are distributed across different groups of parents and what kinds of arguments about parents' involvement can initially be made based on this distribution. The findings reveal the shift in the number of learning disability (LD) diagnoses from the privileged to the less privileged children. This chapter also considers other disabilities such as mental retardation and autism spectrum disorders and compares the diagnoses of these disabilities with that of LD. (pages 63 - 94)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Colin Ong-Dean
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.003.0005
[parents, disabled children, disability, parenting, social class, race]
This chapter reviews the literature for parents of disabled children to determine how the cultural construction of disabilities speaks to a particular audience. The analysis indicates relations among disability, parenting, social class and race. This chapter suggests that the literature for parents of disabled children constitutes a resource for specific groups of parents and their children and reinforces their advantages at a moment when they are most vulnerable. (pages 95 - 112)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Colin Ong-Dean
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.003.0006
[administrative hearings, parents, disabled children, educational valuation, educational placement, economic capital, cultural capital]
This chapter examines administrative hearings in which parents challenge their disabled children's educational evaluation and placement. It discusses the relation between economic capital and cultural capital and analyzes the distribution of administrative hearings across different demographic types of school districts. This chapter also examines the influence of parents' economic and cultural capital on the due process hearing decisions and orders. (pages 113 - 160)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Colin Ong-Dean
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226630021.003.0007
[parents, disabled children, special education, disability, social reproduction, privilege]
This chapter sums up the key findings of this volume about the role of parents in the education of disabled children. It highlights the inequity in special education and the relation between study of disability and the study of social reproduction. This chapter suggests that this volume should not be considered as a definitive statement of the connections of privilege to special education but as a thumbnail sketch of a largely unexplored territory. (pages 161 - 168)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Appendix

Notes

References

Index