No, ABC, that’s not how special education works. {I’m not speechless about Speechless.}

I was initially pretty excited about Speechless being on TV. It seemed to be a “more accurate than usual” representation of what we live every day, and the comedy was not at the expense of the disabled person.

Then I got to Season 2. Seriously? Ok, before you roll your eyes and click out of this…stick with me for a minute. I know I have a habit of complaining about beloved TV shows.

Shows such as ER and Grey’s Anatomy have consultants on staff so that they get the facts straight about the medical stuff. So it really only makes sense that ABC would have a Special Education Consultant on board to help get things correct. Obviously they do not.

Because it matters. When our kids are portrayed as needy creatures who financially suck the life out of a school system….it affects how they are treated. When the school board tells Maya that JJ’s expenses are 15% over the allotted amount, it means that others then see our kids with price tags on their heads.

It matters.

So here you go ABC, I’ll give you a little bit of free consulting. Here’s what you got wrong so far in your portrayal of Special Education in Season 2. (Story line crosses more than one episode if you haven’t seen it yet.)

What ABC’s Speechless gets wrong about the special needs life

All the parents transfer their kids to JJ’s school because they want 1:1 aides. First, the show takes place in California and I do not personally know the workings of school choice in California. But, I do know that in many states that do have public school choice, you have to submit your IEP as part of your admissions process. And it is completely legal to exclude a child based on high needs, in some states. So, if all these kids did in fact warrant a 1:1 on their IEP, chances are the school would have denied their applications to transfer to that school. See, in real life, school choice is not available to our kids. Public schools can and do refuse to admit our kids because they have too many needs.

The disabled students get 1:1 aides because the “parents requested them.” Oh lordy! If only it was that easy! There was all this talk about the “parents requests” and the confrontation between Maya and the principal for not honoring those requests. IEPs are needs based. There was no talk of demonstrating need…just that the parents asked for it. While occasionally parents do mistakenly request things that their kids do not need, more often that not, students go months and even years without needed services–especially the expensive ones like 1:1s.

This one was the kicker. “Anyone can be an aide.” Good freakin’ grief. I was once at a conference and the speaker said “We need to stop calling them para-professionals because what they do is both professional and essential.” A-men!

No, not anyone can be an aide. When you say things like that, it implies so many misconceptions about our kids–like they don’t need skilled professionals, just a warm body. And that an aide is an expensive “request” of a parent that doesn’t even serve much purpose.

Sure, there were a bunch of warm and fuzzy moments at the end of episode 4 when the aide all of a sudden knows sign language…but the damage was done. If a child has a 1:1 aide, that person has specific employment requirements and goals to meet. It’s not just a babysitter–that child has significant needs that any parent would give their right arm for their child to have.

One of my child’s 1:1 responsibilities is to make sure that he doesn’t choke to death on his food. So choke on that ABC…the thought of sending your child out into the world like that.

anyone can be an aide speechless

Maya, she’s just over the top. I love Minnie Driver, but I am growing weary of this character. She portrays us special needs moms as….I don’t even know where to begin. Love her passion, love her persistence…could you make her a little less seemingly unreasonable?A little less prickly?

In real life, would she likely know more than the principal about JJ and CP? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that we’re all bulldozers and condescending bitches about it.

Maya. Again. Her arms are always crossed. Most behavior and body language experts will tell you that crossed arms is a defensive posture and is not often seen as a “positive” thing. Another subtle ding against special needs moms. Sure, we have every right to be defensive, but at the core–special needs moms are the most compassionate, empathetic, loving and strong women I’ve ever met.

Maya, as a mom, cannot just come in, find aides in the budget, and then train them. On the positive side, it shows her commitment to the cause and her dedication. As a negative, it seems to trivialize our kids’ {very needed} services.

speechless tv show special education

The #SpecialNeedsLife

I know, I overthink things. But of course when it’s a show that I can relate to, I’m going to analyze it. I could go on-talking about the cost of a service vs. the child needing it, Maya barging in on the school board meeting….one scene makes if comical, but inaccuracy after inaccuracy just gives a largely inaccurate picture. And that’s not funny, not to me. You can be accurate and funny and entertaining.

There are still many things I love about the show. I love how JJ’s siblings treat him as a normal sibling. Their angst and struggles about having JJ as a brother has been very enlightening for me. I see myself in Maya’s commitment to helping other parents. The very real conversation that JJ and his dad had (at camping) about JJ’s future was fantastic. It’s something all parents wonder about.

My guess is that a real IEP meeting is too much of a horror show to put on cable TV. (kidding!) I just would like to see more accurate portrayals of what we do, as accuracy and exposure creates understanding. Maya just walks into the principal’s office, asks for something, and gets it. As if!


Disability Moms | 9 Habits of Happy, Strong, and Successful Disability Moms

No One is More Aware of their own Mortality than a Mom to a Disabled Child.


  • Fine Motor Skills-Games, crafts and coloring activities are a great way to use and practice a child’s fine motor skills.
  • Speech and Language– Many parents seek out a language-rich environment for their child. Any activity can be an opportunity to use and repeat new words and language, mimicking sounds, new vocalizations and articulations.
  • Executive Functioning Skills– Depending on the game or activity, it can be an opportunity to practice executive functions such as working memory, sequencing, following directions, task initiation and more.
  • Handwriting and Fluency- This piggybacks onto the language skills a child needs, but with worksheets, coloring pages and games, they can be a low-risk opportunity to practice handwriting and fluency.
  • Practicing Previously Acquired Skills-Applying already acquired skills across all environments, bring the classroom teaching into the real world.
  • Sensory-Textures, sounds, taste, vestibular, interoception, anything!
  • Social Awareness-Practice traditional social skills in a safe environment, such as: joint attention, taking turns, reciprocating conversation, waiting politely, and more.
  • Gross Motor-If you’re in a new place, practice walking across uneven surfaces, new surfaces, inclines & declines, stairs, or increasing endurance.

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