Massacres, Mental Health and Black Kids

Show Me the Numbers: As Newtown coverage conflates mental illness and violence, students may suffer.

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While they may have difficulty processing large volumes of dense text, they may be the best at taking discrete concepts and applying them creatively to novel situations. Their scattered attention and hyperactive energy also helps some children with ADHD juggle many tasks, relate to many people and excel in student activities and student government.

Also, most people are aware of the social challenges for children with autism that make it difficult for them to communicate with other students or teachers. However, few take the time to understand the advantages of certain peculiar behaviors. In some instances, children with autism are able to leverage their repetitive behaviors and extraordinary attention to random objects into the development of mathematic and artistic abilities.

How Black Students Without Disabilities End Up in Special Education

Lael L. Montgomery was in elementary school when his father murdered his mother. Instead of receiving the care he needed to resolve the emotional trauma associated with losing both parents in one day, he was sent to school. Predictably, in school Lael was sullen, withdrawn and disconnected.

I share Lael's story to illustrate the fact that having, or not having, a disability is not a rigid category. Most, if not all, people have some characteristics of one or more disability. We all have different attention spans, levels of anxiety, susceptibility to distraction and social acuity, among other issues that are controlled by past and present circumstances, as well as our unique biochemical makeup. 

Many black students who end up in special education do not have a disability. Rather, they have circumstances that spur behavior patterns that are not compatible with the school environment. Situation-specific symptoms will usually remit with basic guidance and structural modifications to the person's situation. In school settings, from the standpoint of disabilities, students can be divided into four categories:

1. A true negative: children who do not have a disability and have never been diagnosed
2. A true positive: children who have a disability and have been accurately diagnosed
3. A false negative: children who have a disability but have never been diagnosed
4. A false positive: children who do not have a disability but have been diagnosed with one, or have a specific disability and have been diagnosed with the wrong one

Many problems are associated with false-negative and false-positive diagnoses. A child with an undiagnosed disability might experience less compassion and no accommodations for learning or behavioral challenges. A child with a genuine learning disorder might be expected to follow the same pace as other students, and be penalized with suspensions for opposing an incompatible learning process.

False-positive children may be relegated to a learning environment that is not stimulating or challenging. Research that Dr. Leon Caldwell edited for a special issue of the Journal of Negro Education found evidence that black students are more likely than other races to have false-negative and false-positive diagnoses because of culturally biased assessments, unique styles of expression and environmental stressors.

Lesson About Mental Health in Black Schools That We Won't Learn From Sandy Hook