Archive for the ‘Special Education’ Category

Dennis Evans in his book Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Educational Practice includes two opposing articles about whether schools should have accommodations for students with special needs.  The article for accommodations, by Maryann Byrnes, outlines the obligation that schools have to provide for the needs of exceptional students under IDEA and other legislation, arguing that individuals should be given every means necessary to perform their very best in school.  Accommodations are similar to allowing individuals to wear glasses on their drive tests.  Why would you withhold a program from exceptional students that will help them succeed in their education?   Accommodations allow exceptional and 504 students to succeed where a lack of accommodations only sets them up for failure.  The article against accommodations, by James Kauffman, Kathleen McGee, and Michelle Brigham, argues that special education programs were introduced into schools with the original intent of allowing students to overcome obstacles so that they could perform normally or at the level of other students their age.  The push toward full inclusion has only resulted in an attitude in special education from students and parents where it is expected that the expectations for exceptional students will be lower than their peers regardless of whether or not they can perform at their level.  Accommodations don’t help students prepare for the expectations in life outside of high school and so do them a disservice.

While I’m not sure that I agree that there should be no or few accommodations for exceptional students, I do think that the authors of the article against accommodations have a point about the necessity of helping exceptional students perform at the level of their peers.  Special Education is a service to individuals who find it difficult to perform at grade level expectations.  The disabilities of exceptional students make it hard for those students to compete with their peers in certain areas, especially when those exceptional students are asked to make a way for themselves after high school.  Exceptional students who are capable of doing work at the level of their peers should be encouraged to continue joining the learning community at that level and with those expectations.  There are many exceptions to this where it is clear that the student needs to have the curriculum changed so that they can be successful in school.  However, shouldn’t the natural tendency of special education programs be to encourage students to perform at the level of their peers?  Are we doing students a disservice if we allow them to work less hard for a sense of achievement if the next step is for them to face the world after high school where the expectations are not bendable to their needs?

References:

Evans, Dennis ed. (2008).  Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Educational Practice.  Boston,

MA: McGraw Hill.

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One sign that inclusion is not being successful in a general education classroom for an exceptional student is if there is no social connection between the exceptional student and the other students.  One of the central goals of inclusion is for students with disabilities to develop their social abilities through connections with other students their age.  Often what can happen in an inclusion program is that the student experiences the island effect where he or she is still in the same classroom as other students but feels separated from the general learning environment.  It is important in an inclusion program for the general education teacher and the para educator to be working together to involve the student with a disability or disabilities in the learning and activities of the general classroom.  The emotional wellbeing of a student is often determined by the relationships that they form in the general education setting.  There are exceptions, but often a good sign of poor inclusion is the lack of a social connection between an exceptional student and others.

Another sign of poor inclusion is a lack of dialogue between the general educator, the para educator, and the special education team.  Successful development for an exceptional student is often determined by a connection between faculty over the best program or resources for an exceptional student.  Detrimental to a student’s academic and social development is a poor connection between the para educator and the general education teacher over the involvement of the student in general classroom learning and activities.  Equally detrimental is a poor connection between the special education team and the para educator and general education teacher over proper teaching methods and materials and what new learning technologies and programs are available.   It is important that the para educator and the general education teacher are continually brought up to speed on the dynamics of their responsibilities for educating an exceptional student.  The most successful learning experience for an exceptional student is when their education is the product of the collaboration of several professionals.

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Inclusion of students with severe disabilities in the general education classroom requires the teacher to have the desire to do whatever is necessary to help their students succeed.  This means that the teacher must be willing to help their student with putting on clothes, eating, etc.  The para-educator assisting the student with severe disabilities should be the one meeting most of the student’s needs in the classroom.  However, the presence of the para should not stand in the way of the development of a relationship between the general education teacher and the student.  It is not appropriate for the general education teacher to focus all of their time in the classroom on the student with severe disabilities.  They have been hired to teach and educate the body of students as a whole. However, (again) the general educator should be willing to do whatever is necessary to meet the needs of their students in the pursuit of developing a relational with their students for the purposes of education.

In the case of the specific types of severe disabilities mentioned in the text, this means that the teacher might find it necessary to practice new forms of instruction, learn new forms of communication, or might need to help a student develop socially or behaviorally.  For students who experience Traumatic Brain Injury, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) centered on the development of a student’s ability to learn and to focus for long periods of time is prescribed.  Special attention should also be paid to behavioral functions, social and emotional abilities and norms, and language development or reconstruction if necessary.  For students who have Deaf-Blindness, the importance of Direct Instruction and structured routines is emphasized.  Students with Deaf Blindness also require the development of specific forms of communication through hand-under-hand guidance, adapted sign language, and very specific tactile cues.  They will also require Orientation and Mobility (O&M) or training in navigating and functioning in different environments.  In the cases of both of the specific disabilities mentioned above, the student will most likely spend a great deal of time in the special education classroom before they can function in the general education classroom.  However, it is necessary that the student with severe disabilities is placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) as soon as possible so that they can achieve their full potential under the educational practice of Normalization.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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Educational considerations for a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will depend on the kind and the degree of the disorder.  Students with varying levels of Autism will have difficulty with cognition, behavior, and communication development.  Often cognition and behavior problems relate to the student with Autism’s difficulty with communication.  Problems with communication come from a lack of a desire to communicate for social purposes.  Other factors contributing to a student with Autism’s difficulty with communication are impaired social interactions (or desires for) and abnormal sensory perceptions (unnatural reactions to auditory or physical stimuli).  Behavioral problems from a student with Autism are often repetitive behaviors (rocking, spinning, etc.) or inappropriate social interactions (biting, hitting, etc.).  Students with Autism’s cognition difficulties are unique to Autism, in that though it is similar in some ways to students with intellectual disabilities, there are often students who have an incredible ability in one area or skill.  Autistic individuals who have this incredible ability are given the title Autistic Savant.  Educational recommendations for students with Autism are Direct Instruction (Often in a one-on-one basis in a special education program), Behavior Management (also often in a special education classroom), and Instruction in a natural setting (LRE).  A student with Autism will often spend a great deal of time in the special education classroom before they develop the ability to be successful in the general education classroom.  Once they are in the general education classroom, the general education teacher will have to be aware of the educational considerations mentioned above.  A student with Autism will often need direct instruction both in academics and in appropriate behaviors and need assistance from the teacher to develop successful social interactions and friendships.  A general education teacher who has a student with Autism should be adequately informed on the condition of Autism, so that they can appropriately react to the attitude and actions of the student in the general education classroom.

Educational considerations for students with Asperger’s Syndrome directly relate to their difficulties with social interaction and communication skills.  Students with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty seeing the hidden curriculum, or the lessons that other students learn about social interactions through experience with others and with the teacher.  Students with Asperger’s often have to be taught directly what is appropriate in class, who they should trust outside of school, and what reactions are appropriate at what times.  Linked directly to this is their difficulty with the social uses of languages.  They often have to be taught what the appropriate thing is to say to others, what attitude they should have or communicate, and what people mean by certain phrases.  Educational considerations for students with Asperger’s include social interpreting and coaching.  Teachers, Para educators, and special education teachers need to work direct with students with Asperger’s to help them interpret social interactions and what is appropriate for conversations and interactions.  Teachers can use the SODA acronym, where students with Asperger’s are asked to Stop what they are doing, Observe what the situation is and what others are doing, Deliberate about what the best course of action in is, and Approach the person with whom they would like to visit.  Students with Asperger’s will also often need direct coaching on developing social and academic abilities.  General education teachers will need to work directly with students with Asperger’s in the absence of a para educator to help them develop their abilities in social interactions and academics.  Also, it is important that, like Autism, general education teachers are informed about the condition of Asperger’s so that they will have the appropriate reaction to the student’s comments and actions in the classroom.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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                 The federal definition of emotionally disturbed in the context of IDEA and its rules and regulations includes the following:  A condition in which an individual exhibits one of several certain characteristics often, to a marked extent, and over a long period of time.  Those characteristics can be a general inability to learn (not explained by mental or physical difficulties), an inability to construct or keep satisfactory friendships or relationships, inappropriate behaviors or feelings in general circumstances, a general mood of unhappiness or depression, and a tendency to be afraid or have specific physical symptoms in reference to personal or school related problems.  This definition includes individuals with schizophrenia but does not include individuals who are ‘socially maladjusted’ but not emotionally disturbed (Exceptional Learners, pg. 266). 

                The authors of Exceptional Learners express their belief that the exclusion of socially maladjusted individuals is unnecessary.  Often, they argue, it is difficult to differentiate or adequately determine by the wording of the definition whether or not someone who is identified as being socially maladjusted is actually not emotionally disturbed.  They bring up the fact that it will be difficult to determine whether someone can be identified as emotionally disturbed if they are performing adequately academically.  They might not fit the category of EBD (Emotional or Behavioral Disorder) if they are not having a general difficulty to learn.  The problem with this argument is that although academic achievement problems are assumed to be the focus of why someone would be identified as needing special education, the federal definition allows for an individual to have one or more of the characteristics that defines someone as having an EBD in which case it is possible for them to have other symptoms and still be performing well academically.  Also, the definition is not specific to academic problems only, in which case constant behavioral disturbances combined with clear emotional disturbance would be enough to classify the individual as having EBD.

                The Special Education Program is intended to provide a service to individuals who aren’t capable of having significant achievement in the classroom on their own.  Individuals who are socially maladjusted because of social or relational reasons are in need of service, but it would seem that their needs are better met by school counselors or school psychiatrists.  The authors seem to be eager to include as many individuals in the EBD category as possible so as to make up the difference in individuals who are identified as having EBD and individuals who are actually receiving the service.  Although it is true that there is a fine line between social maladjustment and emotional disturbance, the exclusion clause in the federal definition is there so that those who need special education receive it, while others whose needs would be better met by other services will not receive special education.  Those that require special education in the field of EBD should receive it, and the identification process should be lenient enough to make up the difference in individuals who need special services.  The exclusion clause, however, should not be removed from the federal definition.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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One of the most interesting and perhaps most challenging disabilities for a student in a general education classroom is Autism.  With cognitive problems and deficits in social ability and responsiveness, students with Autism present a case where Inclusion could either be extremely successful or destructive to the learning environment, depending on the teacher and the resources that are provided for the student in the classroom.  I’ve chosen to focus my Inclusion presentation on students with Autism because I’ve had many experiences with students who have varying levels of Autism, and because I find their irregular decisions and social disabilities to be very interesting and intriguing.  My heart goes out to them in their struggle to find understanding and to be successful at school and in the modern world.

Children with Autism have certain tendencies depending on their level of Autism.  They tend to have deficits in social responsiveness: Their reactions seem to be unrelated to their surroundings or stimulus (they won’t smile in social situations, but then will laugh out loud at what appears to be nothing), they tend to act differently at different times to different people, they tend to avoid eye contact, they show little interest in people and tend to focus on objects, and they often don’t have a desire to communicate and are sometimes confused to be mute.  Children with Autism will often have ritualistic motor motions that they repeat often.  Examples of this could be twirling, spinning certain objects, or rocking.  Children with Autism will also have certain cognitive problems similar to the problems that children with intellectual disabilities face.  This may be accompanied by extreme ability in one area or function that appears to be unrelated to all of the rest of the child’s learning (Autistic Savant).  The problems that a child with Autism face can be narrowed down to problems with executive functions, weak central coherence motivation (or the desire to connect understanding of many parts into a meaningful whole), and difficulty with understanding and respecting the perspectives of others.

Exceptional Learners: An Introduction to Special Education suggests several educational strategies for working with students with Autism: direct Instruction, behavioral guidance, age appropriate natural settings, the assistance of a social interpreter, and coaching for correct social interaction from the teacher.  At the moment, according to Exceptional Learners, the most popular form of educational consideration for students with Autism is the self-contained classroom.  There is evidence, however, that students with Autism can be successful in the general education classroom especially with the assistance of a para-educator or social interpreter.  It is a worthy goal of educators and school administrators to eliminate the fear and misunderstanding surrounding students with Autism.  One healthy way that this can be accomplished is through inclusion into the general education classroom.  I will endeavor to prove in my PowerPoint that this is not only possible but can have great benefits for students with Autism and for the general student population.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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                One academic challenge that you will face with Learners with Learning Disabilities is their difficulty with social and emotional abilities and behaviors.  Learners with LD experience social/emotional problems and will have a tendency towards depression, social rejection, suicidal thoughts, and/or loneliness.  This tendency coupled with motivational problems like learned helplessness and an external locus of control causes the learner to lack concentrated effort on schoolwork and to distance themselves both from the teacher and from other students.  This tendency will make it difficult for the teacher to motivate the student to achievement in their classroom, both in individual work and in work with other students. 

                A teacher should be inclined to assist the student who seems to have difficulty making friends in their classroom.  In the case of the Learner with LD, it is essential that the teacher have this focus in mind for social and academic reasons.  It is a responsibility of the teacher as a representative of the state to help Learners with LD understand the difficulties they’re experiencing, and to help them develop strategies to work through social and emotional difficulties.  At the primary level of education, this means that the teacher should organize as many activities that involve the Learner with LD working with other students.  Other students should be taught what the natural difficulties are of Learners with LD so that they can identify what behaviors seem odd to them.  The teacher should also work as much as possible directly with the student to help them overcome their difficulties and fears. 

                For the secondary level of education, much more subtle practices must be used to ensure social development for Learners with LD.  Group activities should still be used as much as possible as a rule.  Other students should similarly be made aware of the difficulties of LD either directly or informally.  Peer tutoring, or having another student help the student with LD measure achievement and behavior, could be extremely effective in helping the student with LD gain social ability if the student who is assigned to the student with LD volunteers and does so with the desire to help and to develop a relationship with the student with LD.  The defining factors in the process of social development for the student with LD is the desire of others to have a relationship with this individual and the patience of others in helping the student develop social ability.  Without these, the student might be made to feel like they’re a project or as someone with whom social interaction is pointless.  In the event of this, the student with LD will remove themselves from social interaction more and more until dangerous consequences occur.  It is important to realize that wherever a student is in their academic development, social development and the increase of perceived self-worth are essential to the continuation of a student’s development on any level and to the maturation of the general individual into adulthood.

Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009).  Exceptional Learners:  An introduction to Special Education.  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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