top of page

Why Do Schools Label Students, 'Sped Kids'?

It's demeaning, hurtful, and plain 'ol mean.

Label: noun. A classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive.

Teachers, administrators, IEP Directors, and Directors of Special Education in our schools use a label on a daily basis that insults their students and your kids. I don’t think they mean it to be insulting (or a label), but it is.

That term is “sped kid,” a term used to describe a student who is in the special education classroom environment.

To be fair, not all teachers, administrators, IEP Directors, and Directors of Special Education use that term. But many will let it roll off the tongue like, “and,” “the,” or, “or.”

You may not think that sped kid is a label, but I ask you to stay with me on this for a moment and let me explain why it is exactly that. If, in the end, you don’t agree with me, I welcome your negative comments.

When we put labels on people or groups of people, we’re judging them, and not in a nice way. Not that there’s a nice way to judge, but I think you get my point.

Let me give you a couple of examples of labels people will drop on a daily basis:

Plus-Size. Is there a regular size? How about a minus-size? Just because a clothing store has a sign directing you to a certain area of the store doesn’t make it right.

Crazy. Are people “crazy,” or are they more likely, manic, experiencing depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or a number of other actual medical diagnoses?

Would you call a student in a traditional classroom setting “traditional kid” or “regular kid?” No. If not, then why use sped kid?

In the almost fifteen years since I was diagnosed as having autism and that I’ve been self-advocating for the autistic community, I’ve never heard anyone employed by a school use either "traditional" or "regular" to describe a student.

I’ve sat through enough IEP (Individualized Educational Program) meetings and sat on panels at conferences for those involved in special education, and I’ve yet to hear a student described as traditional or regular. Maybe I was in the bathroom when someone used those words and simply missed them, but I doubt it.

Again, I want to say that I don’t believe the vast majority of those that use the term sped kid mean to insult or do harm to that student, but they do. And it does.

Growing up, I was never labeled a sped kid because I was out of high school for a decade before autism as we know it today was diagnosed and before special education as we know it today. But that doesn’t mean my teachers didn’t label me.

Beginning in fifth grade, teachers called me “weird.” And “stupid.” And “lazy.” I can tell you for a fact that I’m not stupid. I was trying very hard to understand what the teachers were saying and did my best in the classroom, so I’m pretty sure lazy doesn’t apply either.

Weird? Maybe. But I prefer “quirky.”

I was also told that I wouldn’t be able to reach my potential, but last time I checked, there’s no standard for grading an individual’s potential, so I’m not sure how they came to that conclusion.

Those three descriptive words got stuck in my head, and I’ve replayed them thousands if not hundreds of thousands of times over the years. Just like the “sped kids” will replay that term in their minds. Those words haunt me to this day and are a big part of the anxiety and depression I battle on a daily basis.

To further complicate things, it’s not just the school staff that picks up on this term. Students will hear their teachers and those in positions of authority use "sped kid," and they’ll think it’s OK. But it’s not OK.

Want to hear something that will really blow your mind? These same people have no problem dropping the sped kid bomb in front of the parents! The term is regularly used in IEP meetings.

How regular? I sat through one meeting where it was used 23 times in three hours (I started tallying after the fourth time). It didn’t matter how many times I said, “Could you please not use that term? It’s derogatory and offensive,” they kept going. See how easily it can roll off the tongue?

Educators are, well, educated. Surely, they can come up with a better term than sped kid. Or, just a thought, how about referring to the student as simply John, Susan, Mark, or Carol?

Can we please stop labeling students as sped kids?

If I haven’t said enough to convince you that the term is derogatory and offensive, then I’ve not done my job correctly. So, once again, I offer you the opportunity to leave your negative comments below. I’ll be sure to read them as soon as I’m finished being “weird,” “stupid,” and “lazy.”

How can we make schools more inclusive for kids with disabilities? I want your thoughts. The only way change will happen is if we work together.

A version of this piece originally appeared on The Mighty.

1 view0 comments
bottom of page