WHAT IS SPECIAL EDUCATION?
What is special education about? Why should I let it affect me? Do I have a role in educating those with special needs? I feel that all children and students are special regardless of ability or disability, and that all students are capable of learning and receiving an outstanding education.
Special education or special needs education is the practice of educating students with special needs in a way that addresses their individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process involves the individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, accessible settings. These interventions are designed to help learners with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and their community, than may be available if the student were only given access to a typical classroom education.
Common special needs include learning disabilities, communication disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders, physical disabilities and developmental disabilities. Students with these kinds of special needs are likely to benefit from additional educational services such as different approaches to teaching, the use of technology, a specifically adapted teaching area, or a resource room.
Intellectual giftedness is a difference in learning and can also benefit from specialized teaching techniques or different educational programs, but the term “special education” is generally used to specifically indicate instruction of students with disabilities. Gifted education is handled separately.
Whereas special education is designed specifically for students with special needs, remedial education can be designed for any students, with or without special needs; the defining trait is simply that they have reached a point of under-preparedness, regardless of why. For example, even people of high intelligence can be underprepared if their education was disrupted, for example, by internal displacement during civil disorder or a war.
In most developed countries, educators modify teaching methods and environments so that the maximum number of students are served in general education environments. Therefore, special education in developed countries is often regarded as a service rather than a place. Integration can reduce social stigmas and improve academic achievement for many students.
The opposite of special education is general education. General education is the standard curriculum presented without special teaching methods or supports.
Some children are easily identified as candidates for special needs due to their medical history. They may have been diagnosed with a genetic condition that is associated with intellectual disability, may have various forms of brain damage, may have a developmental disorder, may have visual or hearing disabilities, or other disabilities.
For students with less obvious disabilities, such as those who have learning difficulties, two primary methods have been used for identifying them: the discrepancy model and the response to intervention model. The discrepancy model depends on the teacher noticing that the students’ achievements are noticeably below what is expected. The response to intervention model advocates earlier intervention.
In the discrepancy model, a student receives special education services for a specific learning difficulty (SLD) if the student has at least normal intelligence and the student’s academic achievement is below what is expected of a student with his or her IQ. Although the discrepancy model has dominated the school system for many years, there has been substantial criticism of this approach among researchers. One reason for criticism is that diagnosing SLDs on the basis of the discrepancy between achievement and IQ does not predict the effectiveness of treatment. Low academic achievers who also have low IQ appear to benefit from treatment just as much as low academic achievers who have normal or high intelligence.
The alternative approach, response to intervention, identifies children who are having difficulties in school in their first or second year after starting school. They then receive additional assistance such as participating in a reading remediation program. The response of the children to this intervention then determines whether they are designated as having a learning disability. Those few who still have trouble may then receive designation and further assistance. Sternberg (1999) has argued that early remediation can greatly reduce the number of children meeting diagnostic criteria for learning disabilities. He has also suggested that the focus on learning disabilities and the provision of accommodations in school fails to acknowledge that people have a range of strengths and weaknesses and places undue emphasis on academics by insisting that students should be supported in this arena and not in music or sports.
A special education program should be customized to address each individual student’s unique needs. Special educators provide a continuum of services, in which students with special needs receives varying degrees of support based on their individual needs. Special education programs need to be individualized so that they address the unique combination of needs in a given student.
In the United States, Canada, and the UK, educational professionals use the initials IEP when referring to a student’s individualized education plan. For children who are not yet 3, an IFSP. (Individual Family Service Plan)It contains 1) information on the child’s present level of development in all areas; 2) outcomes for the child and family; and 3) services the child and family will receive to help them achieve the outcomes.
Students with special needs are assessed to determine their specific strengths and weaknesses. Placement, resources, and goals are determined on the basis of the student’s needs. Accommodations and Modifications to the regular program may include changes in the curriculum, supplementary aides or equipment, and the provision of specialized physical adaptations that allow students to participate in the educational environment as much as possible. Students may need this help to access subject matter, physically gain access to the school, or meet their emotional needs. For example, if the assessment determines that the student cannot write by hand because of a physical disability, then the school might provide a computer for typing assignments, or allow the student to answer questions verbally instead. If the school determines that the student is severely distracted by the normal activities in a large, busy classroom, then the student might be placed in a smaller classroom such as a resource room.
Schools use different approaches to providing special education services to students. These approaches can be broadly grouped into four categories, according to how much contact the student with special needs has with non-disabled students: (1) Inclusion – In this approach, students with special needs spend all, or most of the school day with students who do not have special needs. Because inclusion can require substantial modification of the general curriculum, most schools use it only for selected students with mild to moderate special needs, which is accepted as a best practice. Specialized services may be provided inside or outside the regular classroom, depending on the type of service. Students may occasionally leave the regular classroom to attend smaller, more intensive instructional sessions in a resource room, or to receive other related services that might require specialized equipment or might be disruptive to the rest of the class, such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and/or rehabilitation counseling. They might also leave the regular classroom for services that require privacy, such as counseling sessions with a social worker; (2) Mainstreaming – refers to the practice of educating students with special needs in classes with non-disabled students during specific time periods based on their skills. Students with special needs are segregated in separate classes exclusively for students with special needs for the rest of the school day; (3) Segregation in a separate classroom or special school for students with special needs: In this model, students with special needs do not attend classes with non-disabled students. Segregated students may attend the same school where regular classes are provided, but spend all instructional time exclusively in a separate classroom for students with special needs. If their special class is located in an ordinary school, they may be provided opportunities for social integration outside the classroom, such as by eating meals with non-disabled students. But if that is not possible, these students may attend a special school; and (4) Exclusion: A student who does not receive instruction in any school is excluded from school. In the past, most students with special needs have been excluded from school. Such exclusion still affects about 23 million disabled children worldwide, particularly in poor, rural areas of developing countries. It may also occur when a student is in hospital, housebound, or detained by the criminal justice system. These students may receive one-on-one instruction or group instruction. Students who have been suspended or expelled are not considered excluded in this sense.