“He’s Too Smart for Special Education”

Published on August 12, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

As a parents’ special education attorney in Connecticut, I hear outrageous statements that parents are told by their school districts on an almost daily basis.  But, sometimes, I am told something that passes the realm of outrageous, and crosses into ridiculous.


Such statements mislead or misrepresent the school’s legal obligations, and always in a way that benefits the school district.

After hearing so many of them, I decided to add a separate category to my blog just for this purpose, where I will post these ridiculous comments and explain why it likely violates IDEA.  Hopefully, if you’ve heard similar things from your district, next time around you will know better!

Today’s Ridiculous Comment

The misconception that a student who requires special education services is unintelligent is something about which I’ve written before.  It really infuriates me, because it is both ignorant and insulting those with disabilities, many of whom are not just of average intelligence, but in fact are incredibly bright.  This is something that educators in general, and special educators in particular, are supposed to know.  And yet, I continue to get phone calls from parents telling me that when they approached the school’s special education department to share concerns about their child’s performance or behavior they are told:  “oh, he’s too smart for special education!”

There is no such thing as being too smart for special education!

A kid can have a genius IQ, but if his Bipolar Disorder prevents him from attending school regularly, he very well may qualify for special education and related services on the basis of an emotional disability.  I have represented a number of students who require wheelchairs or other special equipment in school, who require IEPs, but who are appropriately placed in some AP classes.  Just as I have known lots of kids who have dyslexia who can generate the most amazing poetry.  And if a student has Asperger’s Disorder, he might be reading several grade levels above his same-aged peers, but if that same child requires social skills instruction in order to learn how to ask another child whether he likes his book, he, too, is a smart kid who also happens to need special education services.

I would be less than honest if I restricted prejudice about special education services to school personnel.

In fact, many of the parents who have ultimately hired me to represent their children under the IDEA started out the conversation with “I don’t really think he needs special ed, he’s really bright.”  Or they ask me if there is a stigma associated with special education services.  Of course, it doesn’t help much that many times when a parent requests an IEP they are confronted with “why would you want to label your child?” by the school staff.

Take the time to read the eligibility categories under the IDEA before you decide that your child’s difficulties in school are unrelated to a need for special education instruction.

Often, I will simply read to them the eligibility category (or categories) that seem possible based on what they’ve told me and they will be shocked.  As an example, a parent might be telling me that they really don’t think their child requires an IEP because he’s intellectually gifted, and yet he has been in and out of psychiatric facilities for weeks at a time for several years, and is failing high school as a result.  I’ll read from the description of a special education emotional disability that references “a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression” which has existed for “a long period of time and to a marked degree and adversely affects a child’s educational performance” (34 CFR 300.8) and I’ll hear “YES!  That applies!”

Just like children who do not have disabilities, children with special education needs come in all shapes, sizes, AND abilities!

Do not allow yourself to be convinced that your child is ineligible for special education services just because she has been found to have superior intelligence.   If you do, you may well be depriving her of the chance to learn how to use it.

4 Responses to “He’s Too Smart for Special Education”

  1. Deaf School
    August 27th, 2009 | 10:56 pm

    Cool! Good blog! I’ll mention it in my next blogpost and it’ll turn up on my new blogroll.
    I believe it’s very important
    SO pretty! you have a gorgeous blog!!!!

  2. Sandi
    December 21st, 2009 | 1:12 pm

    I was told that my daughter’s IQ was too high to need special ed, while trying to convince the school to test her. “You don’t want her in this class” were the exact words from the spec ed teacher. Had her tested privately and found disorder of written expression. The school decided to place her in gifted program, but no spec ed services other than that because she is passing! Frustrating!

  3. Tracy
    April 27th, 2010 | 7:47 pm

    For the past two years, I have been in a battle with my son’s school classification, or lack there of, and I found this article to be spot on when it comes to what we are dealing with. My son is 6 and in the first grade. He had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, yet his school refuses to classify him because he it “too smart”! This notion is absolutely unacceptable AND against the law!!! Thank goodness we have laws in place to MANDATE the school to act upon this, although it can be a tedious and time consuming process. I want to talk to other parents facing these challenges aw well, so that we can collaborate and help our children!

  4. Ray
    August 20th, 2012 | 10:07 pm

    Glad i found this. Our son was diagnosed Aspergers/mild Adhd and sensory issues with anxiety and we were told that he doesnt need special education but will be in a “class with special education support”