I honestly cannot remember when I first understood the concept of disability or special education. I grew up in a rural East Tennessee Appalachian community. This community included individuals with disabilities that I just viewed as different. Across the hollow was my "next door neighbor Flo," a young adult female with cognitive impairments with whom I played dolls and whom I later tried to teach to read when I went to school. I had a church friend whose older brother, "Brian," went to a special school because he had undiagnosed autism (he was identified as having mental retardation) and was in our preschool Sunday school class. In the nearest small town was a wandering teenage male, "Fredthe," who had cognitive impairments and did odd jobs for small business owners and who might sit down with your family to eat at the local Dairy Queen. For me, and the community in which I grew up, that was just life.
Later, when given the opportunity to be a graduate assistant in a home-based early intervention program even though my background was English literature, I knew I had found a career about which I could be passionate. I never will forget the interview process for an assistantship that included a 2-hour car ride to a rural home where an 8 month-old with significant health impairments lived. Sitting on the floor of that home talking to the mother and holding the baby felt very natural. Later still, I was presented with a whole new set of challenges as a rural special educator of preschoolers and elementary students with severe disabilities.
Though being rural most of my life and in special education for much of my adult life, I am a relative newcomer to the American Council on Rural Special Education, attending my first ACRES conference in Tulsa, OK, in 2005. Finding ACRES was like finding a friend, or rather a group of friends, who also had a passion for rural areas, including warts, beauty marks, and all. It was a pleasure to see a group so dedicated to the rural issues that I had experienced when I was growing up and had come to understand even better as a home-visiting early interventionist and a special education teacher. The ACRES journal, Rural Special Education Quarterly (RSEQ), has become a favorite journal that gives me glimpses into issues and what others have found to work in their rural areas. It was interesting to read the classic articles published in this issue and to find that multiculturalism, family-centered approaches, and school violence were topics of importance in the late 90s and are still of concern to our field.
Multiculturalism and how to identify and serve children with disabilities who are culturally different than the dominant culture is still a concern today, especially in rural areas that are changing culturally more than ever before. One theory for overrepresentation of individuals who are culturally different is that many live in poverty, and poverty is known to increase special education rates (Coutinho & Oswald, 2000). The Federal government reported that, "in 2002, 14.2 percent of the [rural] population, or 7.5 million people, were poor, compared with 11.6 percent of the metro population" (Rural Poverty at a Glance, n.d. p. 2). Another theory is that special education referral and assessment is still biased (Coutinho & Oswald, 2000). With the 1997 and 2004 IDEA reauthorizations, research in this area has increased since the Gritzmacher and Gritzmacher (1995) article and the Carter and Paez ( 1997) article.
In 1995, the Mailory article discussed the need for a family-centered approach to early intervention in rural areas. In the Fall 2009 RSEQ issue, Cathy Kea also presented the need for a family- centered approach, highlighting the value of practitioners understanding the culture of African American families they serve in rural areas. This article highlighted that rural is not as homogeneous as it once was. …