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When I was an special educator I often heard phrases like;

“She won’t get those accommodations in high school,”

“He won’t get that help on his drivers license exam,”

“They don’t offer accommodations and modifications in college,”

“We need to prepare them for the real world.”

“How will we ever know if she can succeed without her accommodations if we don’t take them away sometimes?”

Or this one which I heard far too many times, “He could do it if he just put in more effort.”

I think that one is my least favorite of all the negative comments. If we had the ability to see inside the brains of students as they were working, I truly believe that the students I saw every day in my classrooms would run laps around other students when it came to effort. I know the effort my students exerted for each and every ounce of gain they achieved. I saw the tears on the faces of their parents when they had spent hours and hours on homework trying to help their child get “just five math problems” or “just ten spelling words” completed. I saw the look of disappointment on my students faces when they had done well on a test, assignment, or project only to have a fellow student or teacher make some derogatory statement about the grade not being equal to someone who hadn’t had accommodations.

I did my best to explain to my circle of colleagues and to the students within the buildings I worked that having a special need does not make a person less than any other person. I realized one day that there was no way it could just be within my circle of people I interacted with that had that perspective. I started paying more attention to family gatherings, outings, events, articles, movies, TV shows and realized the sad truth. This was a worldwide thought! I examined my own thinking and realized sadly, that at one time in my life, I held the same cognitive bias.

We all hold many cognitive biases and until those are challenged we may never change them or even realize we have them. They aren’t bad intentionally. Our brains receive so much information at any given second that it has to filter through it naturally makes mistakes, misjudgements, and misconnections. There is a whole lot more to cognitive biases and how they are formed, recognized, solidified, and changed, but that is for another day. Just trust me for now, it happens to all of us, every day.

As I mentioned, unless and until our biases are recognized and challenged they will stay the same. I grew up in the 1900’s, literally! I was born just a few years before the federal special education law, IDEA, took effect in 1975. As I went through school the kids with special needs were placed in a separate classroom, had a separate lunch time, and basically I never saw anyone with special needs during my school day. I developed the bias that because they were separate there must be something wrong with them. I was never taught that by my parents or teachers it just developed.. When I was nine years old I knew I wanted to be a teacher. When I was thirteen years old, I had the thought of being a special education teacher but because of my bias, I dismissed the idea. When I was sixteen, then again at eighteen, and early twenties I kept having the thought and dismissing it because I didn’t know how to work with “those” kids. I started off my college years taking courses to qualify to be a general education teacher.

Then my college was interrupted due to a move. While I was away, I took jobs that showed me my biases were wrong. I didn’t intentionally take those jobs to have my biases challenged. In fact I didn’t realize I had them!. I worked as an aide in a kindergarten, preschool, second and third grade classrooms. I was helping students learn to read, manage their behavior, hone their math skills, work on their social skills, etc. I wasn’t hired under the guise of being a special education aide so I didn’t think my students were “those” kids. I know it sounds silly and maybe impossible that I didn’t realize it, but it was exactly how it happened. The students I worked with didn’t have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to my knowledge, they were just kids. When I came back to complete my college, I enrolled as a special education major.

I know that for me, I needed to have the blinders on in those situations so I could have the revelation that “those” kids are kids first and foremost. I needed to come to the conclusion through my own experiences. All of the statements mentioned at the beginning of this blog are cognitive biases. Now, over twenty-five years later, I want to help everyone have those experiences in order to challenge their biases. I am doing this through many avenues. I wrote a book title, Those Who “Can’t…,” Teach, I work as an educational consultant providing professional development to school districts and teachers, I am a Master IEP Coach® working with parents and teachers to write better IEPs, and I have two live shows every week on YouTube and Facebook. Friday with Fran is my friend Fran and I getting together to talk about things related to special education and special needs. Fran is the parent of two adult children with special needs and between us we have LOTS of experience and experiences.

My other show, #NOLIMITS, is where I interview people who society has placed limits upon but who have busted through those limits. As of the writing of this blog I have completed 29 episodes. Every interview is unique and I often hear the comment, “I had no idea.” I have loved getting to know every guest and letting them share their story. Not only have I interviewed individuals who have had limits placed upon them but I have interviewed people and organizations that are helping bust those limits. My interview with George Bailey, president of zPods, left me even more motivated to get the word out about #nolimits. ZPods are beds that are helping people everywhere sleep better. George’s son and daughter both have zPods which has allowed their entire family to sleep better. The zPods are safe spaces for all children to find more calm, comfort, and most of all, sleep. Not only George’s family story, but the stories of the other children were so inspiring to me that I wanted to know how I could help spread the word. These beds are not inexpensive, however, if you consider they are a type of therapy bed, they are extremely reasonable in price. Even comparing this bed to an adjustable bed or king size bed is very reasonable. I have worked it out with zPods to offer you a 5% discount if you mention Shelley Kenow 5* sometime during the process. If you or a loved one are having difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, functioning during the day because of restless sleep, or any sleep problems please do yourself a favor and click on one of the links. I believe this bed is going to transform the lives of thousands of individuals and families and will them go even further in busting through limits placed upon them by society.

If you are not someone who has a sleep issue or you want to help break the cognitive bias of someone, please pass this blog along to them.

Shelley Kenow is a Educational Consultant focusing on special education. She is also a Master IEP Coach®, Author, special education teacher, speaker, mom, and wife. To learn even more about Shelley Kenow, visit her website at, follow her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or LinkedIn. If you want to join in her journey of changing the world’s perspective of special needs, join her group on Facebook.

*This is an affiliate offer.

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