Massacres, Mental Health and Black Kids

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


Nevertheless, the trajectory of black students with disabilities is not uniformly dismal. Among the black male ninth-graders who are currently enrolled in honors courses, 15 percent have been told at least once by a health professional or the school that they have a disability. Three percent of black males in honors courses have been told that they have a learning disability; 3 percent, autism; and 6 percent, ADD or ADHD.  Read more about this in Challenge the Status Quo.

How Black Students With Disabilities End Up in Honors Classes

Having a broader understanding of the nature of disabilities helps us to have a better understanding of how black students with disabilities end up in honors classes. Importantly, a disability does not have to be debilitating.

For instance, a learning disorder may be more aptly described as an alternative learning style. For some students, mastering an alternative learning style will give them a competitive edge over students who are average “standard” learners. A visual learner could master the art of using pictures to encode lessons to memory or use “concept mapping” to invigorate mundane text. 

Similarly, while some easy-to-bore ADD and ADHD students have an irresistible impulse to create the havoc necessary to stimulate their nervous systems, others may use their urges to energize the lessons. They may interject humor and anecdotes or push their teachers to create analogies.

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.