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Thriving in the Midst of Chaos: Parenting With Special Needs Kids

Jul 21, 2020

Episode 45: Combating Racial Discrimination In The Special Needs World

In this episode, we discuss discrimination and adversity against minorities in the special needs world and how to start combating discrimination. Guest Latasha Lewis experienced discrimination and diversity across all areas of maternal care and care for her son, who experienced a pediatric traumatic brain injury. Latasha discusses that children of color tend to have a higher rate of suspension, juvenile justice encounters, and a lack of graduation. This is a biproduct of discrimination and bias. Implicit bias is a bias that shows up in those working with children of color who have special needs. Implicit or unconscious bias comes from the messages one receives growing up about minorities, to the point where it is hard to discern what is true and what you have been taught. The mind makes assumptions based on the stories one has been told. Students of color therefore receive (negative) differential treatment due to the messages others have received growing up about individuals of color and therefore the student is sent to the office more often or is seen as a trouble maker more frequently. A lot of teachers or providers are unaware of this bias, and so the treatment may not be intentional, but it is there nonetheless.

In school, black males are often seen as more threatening and menacing by white female teachers. Dr. William T. Lewis discusses that “white" is often the standard and as one gets further in color from white, one is seen as having more deficiencies than white students, especially since the teacher has less common life experiences to the student. Teachers may look at the white male’s behavior as being “boys will be boys” and the black male’s behavior as being overly aggressive. This leads to systematic racism.

The IEPs are often focused on disability rather than ability, and therefore, the goals are often below what the child is capable of. Students of color who have disabilities may also be ignored or overdiagnosed. Latasha and William discuss how states receive money based on the severity of the diagnosis of the children are and therefore, sometimes overdiagnose especially in lower-income areas. Black males are often most overdiagnosed, which leads to economic oppression. There is data to show that black males who are in special education have double or triple the chance of ending up in the justice systems.


Moreover, a lot of children get stuck in special education classes when they don’t need one, and end up with a certificate of completion, rather than a diploma, and therefore, can only get jobs that barely provide a liveable wage.   Some parents aren’t able to be as involved in their student’s education because they need to work very long hours at work to provide necessities for their family, which needs to come first. Other parents may be involved but they trust the educational system and when they go to the meetings and trust they have the best interests of your child, when that may not be the case. On the other hand, there may be a power differential, where the parents are intimidated by the IEP process and education system, so they may not engage or be an advocate, because they do not see themselves in a position of power. To start changing the education system, teachers have to be better and differently educated. And remember, you always have the right to have someone else attend your IEP meeting or have someone else go in your place.

Both guests have concerns over the safety of their sons, even from the police, as the children may frighten if the police approach, due to sensory issues. This may be taken by the police as evading the police, not complying, or becoming combative, and may lead to the children being harmed or killed.

To work toward change, the first step is self-awareness. The second step is having a conversation about how this issue affects yourself and others. Next, we have to work toward intentional action (advocating change in policy, training).



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Dr. William T. Lewis:  Beyond Color Blind

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Show Music:

Intro Outro: Intro Outro 2 by Mattias Lahoud under CC-BY 3.0 License (

Theme Song: 90s rock style by monkeyman535 under CC-BY 3.0 License (

Self Care Song: Green and Orange No Water by Duncan Alex under CC-BY 3.0 License (

Hosted by: Jessica Temple and Lewis Temple

Disclaimer: Our show is not designed to provide listeners with specific or personal legal, medical, or professional services or advice. Parents of children with health issues should always consult their health care provider for medical advice, medication, or treatment.

Copyright 2020 Jessica and Lewis Temple