KIRKUS REVIEW

A snapshot of the state of special education, 50 years after the launch of what became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Claypool and McLaughlin (We’re In This Together, 2015) here provide an accessible crash course on the history of special ed. In the main, they leave the talking to a range of national experts that they’ve interviewed, but they bolster their arguments with verifiable, current data from government agencies and anecdotal testimony about families’ experiences within the system. The authors are executives at ChanceLight, which provides behavioral health, educational, and therapy services for young people with autism and other disorders, and their entrepreneurial bent shows in this book. For example, they write that educational reform must take a leaf from business reform, citing Uber, Airbnb, and artisanal food producers as examples of “unbundling,” or moving from global to local ideas. (Some readers may counter, however, that far more Americans rely on global firms, such as Target, McDonald’s, and Wal-Mart.) The authors go on to argue that the efficacy of special education, especially for autism spectrum disorders, has been undermined by regulations. Programs vary from state to state, they say, and law-enshrined individualized education programs aren’t always followed; roughly half of the states don’t meet legal requirements in this area, they say. The book often quotes spokespeople from the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, because the authors deem it “a business disruptor whose innovations revolutionized the landscape”; less fully explored, however, is that group’s controversial standing in the disability community.Similarly, the book heavily features the benefits of applied behavior analysis and only partly balances them with dissenting voices that argue that autism, as a neurological problem, requires a multidisciplinary approach. The book’s recommendations for reform—such as a rethinking of definitions of “normal”—aren’t groundbreaking. However, the book finishes optimistically, and overall, it should motivate all parents of children with special needs.

An often valuable, if not comprehensive, overview of special education’s successes and shortfalls.

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