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Special education: An overview

Educational instruction or social services designed or modified to assist individuals with disabilities

Post by on Monday, July 12, 2021

First slide
Special education refers to a range of services, including social work services and rehabilitative counseling, provided to individuals with disabilities through the public school system, including instruction given in the classroom, at home, or in institutions. Special education classes are taught by teachers with professional certification. Some teachers specialize in working with children with learning disabilities or multiple handicaps, and instruction may take place within a regular school or a residential school for students with disabilities. Special education must include a comprehensive screening and diagnosis by a multi-disciplinary team and the development of an annual Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each student, outlining academic and behavioral goals, services to be provided, and methods of evaluation. 
The student’s parents must consent to initial screening and must be invited to participate in all phases of the process. Children’s disabilities are defined under 13 categories: autism, blindness, visual impairment, deafness, hearing impairment, deaf-blindness, orthopedic (movement) impairments, multiple handicaps (several disabilities), mental retardation (also called developmental disability), serious emotional disturbance, speech and language disorders, specific learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia ), and specialized health care needs (e.g., oxygen dependence). Traumatic brain injury also qualifies. 
Screening and evaluation 
To qualify for special education, a child must be diagnosed as having a disability and the disability must be found to “adversely affect educational performance” so as to require special services. There is wide variability in the way students are referred and evaluated for special education. For children with severe disabilities, the physician and parents identify and refer the child to special education. Other disabilities or deficits in the child’s developing physical and cognitive abilities may be identified by teacher and parent observation or revealed by academic or developmental tests. There are many standardized programs available to screen large numbers of children between kindergarten and third grade. 
Other disabilities may be subtle or compensated for, such as dyslexia, and may not be discovered until demands on the student increase in college. After referral, a meeting is held to determine whether the child should be “assessed” or “evaluated” to determine the type of disability he or she may have. Tests will attempt to identify the cognitive (academic), social, or physical tasks which the child has difficulty performing, and why the difficulty exists, i.e., what disability or disabilities are present. Tests may include: reading, writing, spelling, and math tests; psychological or intelligence tests; speech and language tests; vision and hearing tests; or an examination by a doctor. Parents must consent to all testing, evaluation, and placement, and can appeal most decisions if they disagree with the conclusions. There is no consensus on the exact diagnosis of specific learning disabilities, and the same treatment goals and teaching strategies are used for all types of learning dis- abilities. Often psychologists will continue testing until they “find” a learning disability for which a student can receive special instruction. 
Mainstreaming and inclusion
The type of contact special education teachers have with students varies according to resources and student population. Some teachers, such as visual impairment specialists, may serve a whole region, tutoring a specific student only once a week. Others teach entire special education classes, providing general education teachers with support, ideas, and resources for mainstreamed pupils. Inclusion, sometimes considered the logical goal of mainstreaming, is total integration of special education students and services into the general education classroom, where special education teachers collaborate with general education teachers to teach the entire class. Full inclusion of all special education students would require restructuring of several traditional educational policies. To the extent that it necessitates extensive continuing collaboration between special education teachers, general education teachers, and support paraprofessionals, and requires restructuring of curricula and lessons, full inclusion represents a revolution in educational methods. 
Research on existing programs suggests that for inclusion to be successful certain attitudes and beliefs must be held and certain resources must be available: 
The general education teacher must believe the special- needs student can succeed.
The school must be committed to accepting responsibility for the learning outcomes of special education students.
Parents must be informed and supportive. 
Services and physical accommodations must be adequate for the student’s needs. 
The principal must understand the needs of special education students.
Enough teacher and staff hours must be devoted to the child’s care. 
Continuing staff development and technical assistance must be provided.
Evaluation procedures must be clear. 
Special education teachers must be part of the entire planning process. 
A team approach is used by teachers and other specialists.
A variety of instructional arrangements must be available (team teaching, ability grouping, peer tutoring) 
Gifted and talented 
Gifted and talented children are those who demonstrate special abilities, aptitude, or creativity. Often they will express themselves primarily in one area such as humanities, sciences, mathematics, art, music, or leadership. Gifted and talented students are not usually considered clients of special education. There is no federal mandate or regular funding to support gifted and talented students, although about half of the states have programs for the gifted and talented. In addition to special counseling, grade skipping, taking summer or correspondence courses, or early graduation, there are a variety of adaptations that can be made to serve the needs of gifted students. 
Adaptations can be made to the content, the process, or the products of learning. Some strategies include: 
Acceleration: Raising the academic level of assignments and giving the student reading material at a higher level of difficulty. 
Telescoping: Reducing the time allowed the student to cover given content. For example, a teacher could give the student two successive mathematics chapters to complete in the ordinary time period used to cover one chapter. 
Compacting: Testing to determine how much of a certain content unit the student knows already and custom designing a curriculum to fill in the gaps. Students can then use the gained time for creative or exploratory activities. 
Independent study: Allowing the student to choose his or her own focus, plan research, present material, and evaluate the process. 
Tiered assignments: Preparing assignments at different levels for different students. Asking more complex and higher order questions in assignments for gifted and talented students. 
Other tools for pacing the learning of gifted and talented students are portfolios and learning centers. Several commercially prepared curricula that provide structured exploratory and design projects are also available. 
(Author is Pursuing PHD in Child Psychology)

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