Special Education Lecture Note

Special Education Lecture Note

Serving as a professional educator is arguably the most important contribution a person can offer to society today.  In particular, those who choose to serve students with special needs play a crucial role in improving the outcomes of individuals with disabilities.  This course is intended to be a guide in assisting you in acquiring a basic understanding of special education processes and the nature and needs of students with disabilities.

Special Education is the design and delivery of teaching and learning strategies for individuals with disabilities or learning difficulties who may or may not be enrolled in regular schools.

Students who need special education may include students who have a hearing impairment or are deaf, students who have vision impairment or are blind, students with physical disabilities, students with intellectual disability, students with learning difficulties, students with behavior disorders or emotional disturbance, and students with speech or language difficulties. Some students have a number of disabilities and learning difficulties.

There are students who require special education of some kind in most elementary and primary school classes, and with changing social values, increased acceptance and tolerance, and growth in the provision of services and resources for special education.

What is special education?

Special Education is the design of teaching and learning strategies for individuals with disabilities or learning difficulties. It is also about attitude because teachers need a positive attitude to be effective special educators (that means teachers need a positive attitude to be good teachers!).

Special education is also about understanding the different needs that students have, including the different types of disabilities and learning difficulties. Put simply, whenever a teacher makes any kind of adaptation to their usual program so that they can assist a student with a special need, that teacher is implementing special education.

The most effective teachers have an attitude that helps them to be successful with all of their students, which can be stated as follows:

"All of my students will learn when I find the right way to teach them"

Effective teachers don’t blame their students for not learning and they don’t exclude students who don’t learn well. They `blame’ their instruction and try to alter it so that it works better. This kind of positive attitude is an essential part of special education and is the path to success for all students and their teachers.

Who is special education for?

Special education is for students with special educational needs. These may be students who have a general difficulty with some part of their learning at school or who seem to have difficulty with all kinds of learning. They may be students with a particular disability, such as a hearing impairment, a vision impairment, a speech impairment, a physical impairment, or an intellectual disability.

They may be students with behavior disorders, emotional problems, or a medical condition of one kind or another. Their special need might be permanent or it might be temporary; this depends on the nature of the need and, to some extent, on what action is taken by their parents, teachers, and other community members.

Any student can have a special educational need at some time or another, and any student can develop a special need. This is why it is sometimes said that special education is for all students.

There have been many research studies conducted across the world in an attempt to work out how many students there are with special needs. The figures vary from time to time and from country to country. They depend on the nature of the society, the ways in which special needs are defined and described, the ways in which data is collected, and so on. Some figures are based on formal medical and psychological assessments, whilst others are based on less formal, but often more practical, assessments.

Special Education Terminology

Advocacy groups, and others representing people with disabilities in recent years, have asked that professionals, the media, and schools discontinue the use of disability terminology that devalues people with disabilities. People with disabilities do not wish to be known as a Down syndrome person’ or `the handicapped’, or by any such term. They wish to be recognized as valued members of society, that is, people, who have a disability.

The principle to be followed is people first, disability second (Foreman, 2000). People with disabilities do not wish to be seen as the object of punishment or blight, or as victims, either. Nor do they wish to be seen as continually suffering or in need of sympathy. They don’t like terms such as `suffers from’, `afflicted with’, `physical problem’, etc. They prefer their disability to be referred to as something that they just have. Foreman (2000, p. 21) provides a list of suggested terms:

The World Health Organization (1980) determined the following definitions, which have been generally accepted throughout the world in writing and speaking about, and with, people with disabilities, whether they are young or old, it is most important to use appropriate terminology. Firstly, it demonstrates to all that we value people with disabilities as members of our society. Secondly, it educates those who read and hear what we say, about appropriate terminology, and therefore gives them an opportunity too, to help develop and promote positive, inclusive, and equitable values.

Types of Disabilities

Teachers have an important role to play in teaching students with special educational needs, accessing special education support services, accessing medical or clinical services, and even providing some medical and therapy services. Teachers also have an important role to play in educating students and their communities about strategies that can prevent students from becoming disabled or more disabled.

What types of disabilities are there?

There are eight major areas of special needs that teachers are likely to come across:

        learning difficulties

        intellectual disability

        physical disability

        hearing impairment

        speech impairment

        vision impairment

behavioral and emotional disorders

Some students have a number of disabilities or other special needs. Sometimes, this is a coincidence but it can also be the case that a particular disease or condition has caused a number of disabilities (e.g., a student with cerebral palsy might have a physical disability, speech impairment, and an intellectual disability (although many people with cerebral palsy do not have an intellectual disability)) or it can be that one disability has caused another (e.g., a student with a severe hearing impairment may have learning difficulties because they haven’t heard all the information they need to learn to read effectively).

Learning Difficulties

The students with special educational needs that teachers are most likely to come across in their classes are students with learning difficulties. These are students who do not necessarily have any disability but, for some reason, have difficulty with learning. Usually, these students have difficulty in only some areas of their learning, such as literacy, mathematics, and receptive language (understanding instructions or directions, following stories, and so on). Put simply, students with learning difficulties are students who are experiencing significant difficulties with at least one area of their learning at school.

Teaching strategies

Major considerations for teaching students with learning difficulties are:

        Use direct, explicit teaching to teach reading, writing, spelling, and mathematics.

        Build up the confidence of students by starting with easy tasks that they can already do, moving ahead gradually, and introducing harder material very carefully.

        Monitor students’ work regularly and carefully so that you know when students are experiencing difficulties and you can respond quickly.

        Teach skills in practical, meaningful ways, and use concrete materials frequently.

        Give plenty of attention to phonics and decoding strategies in reading, as well as plenty of attention to phonemic awareness skills (rhyming games, games involving swapping beginning sounds, ending sounds, and middle sounds in words, clapping out the number of sounds and syllables in words). However, if a student has a hearing impairment, place more emphasis on sight-word approaches to reading as students with a hearing impairment may not be able to hear some sounds in words, even at close range.

        Provide plenty of practice and revision of skills and knowledge.

        Use peer tutors and parent helpers to provide extra instruction and practice.

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability is a substantial limitation in cognitive functioning (i.e., thinking skills). People with intellectual disabilities usually have limited communication skills, limited self-care skills, poor social skills, and very limited academic skills. Most importantly, people with intellectual disabilities have great difficulty with learning and usually require special teaching methods to learn efficiently.

A person with a mild intellectual disability usually has severe learning difficulties, limited or poor conversational skills, and would usually have a history of slow personal development. Most people with mild intellectual disabilities learn independent living skills and are usually involved in productive work at home, in the community, or in the workplace.

A person with a severe intellectual disability is usually not able to perform academic tasks, is unlikely to develop or learn self-care skills, and may not learn or develop ordinary communication skills. Pictorial communication systems (using pictures to communicate) have been successful, in some cases, in teaching students with severe intellectual disabilities to communicate choices and needs. People with severe intellectual disabilities do not learn to live independently and require ongoing support for their survival.

Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities place some limitations on a person’s ability to move about, use their limbs or hands or control their own movement. Physical disabilities are the most obvious disabilities, as a rule, although there are some conditions that limit movement and mobility in less obvious or inconsistent ways (e.g., epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, diabetes). Students with more severe physical disabilities often have related health problems and, of course, physical disabilities are often a symptom of health problems.

Hearing Impairment

Some children are born with hearing loss while others develop hearing loss at some time. Many children have mild hearing loss while some have severe or profound hearing loss. Severe or profound hearing loss is known as deafness. Children who are deaf before they learn a language (2 to 3 years old) are known as prelingually deaf. Deafness is an uncommon disability in children but many children have mild or moderate hearing loss.

Teaching Strategies

Mild hearing loss Students with mild hearing loss might not be able to hear soft sounds (such as whispering) or they might not be able to hear certain types of sound. For example, many children cannot hear high-frequency sounds, such as some of the consonant sounds in speech (e.g., `k’, `s’, `p’, `t’). Students with mild hearing loss often miss many of the words spoken by their teacher and other students and they often miss word endings, such as `sticks’, `playing’, `played’, and so on.

These students often appear to have learning difficulties and can become frustrated and upset at school as a result. Teachers need to ensure that these students are placed near the teacher where they are most likely to see and hear most clearly. These students do not usually require special materials but the teacher does need to check regularly that the student has understood their lessons.

Teachers need to ensure that they use clear communication, always face the children when talking, and always use complete sentences. Effective teachers also use natural gestures and body language to assist children’s understanding.

Severe or profound hearing loss Deaf students can be taught in regular classes but the teacher will need to acquire some special skills. Deaf students need to be communicated with using a combination of clear speech and sign language, in addition to extensive use of written materials.

Speech Impairment

Children can have communication problems for a variety of reasons. In many cases, a communication problem is the result of another disability, such as intellectual disability, severe learning difficulties, physical disability (e.g., cerebral palsy, cleft lip or palate), deafness or moderate hearing loss, or an emotional or psychological disorder. In other cases, and for no obvious reason, children have difficulty learning, understanding or expressing language. There are three types of communication problems: expressive problems, problems with interacting and receptive problems.

Teaching Strategies

Children who have no speech at all, or whose speech is unintelligible, may need to use a sign language or pictorial communication system. Others may need a properly design speech therapy program. Where this is the case, teachers should seek assistance from their special education resource center. However, the vast majority of students with language problems do not require alternative communication systems or an extensive speech therapy program. Rather, they need teaching that is responsive to their individual needs.

Vision Impairment

Vision plays a vital role in school learning and it is essential that teachers understand the visual abilities of their students. Many students who have mild to moderate vision impairments are not identified as such, so teachers have an important role in detecting vision impairment.

As is the case with hearing impairment and some other disabilities, students with vision impairment can sometimes be mistaken for students with intellectual disability or learning difficulties, so when a teacher finds that a student is struggling at school, they should always check the student’s vision and hearing.

When vision impairment is not addressed at school, it can lead to learning difficulties and even behavioral problems, as the student misses important information, struggles to keep up with other students, loses confidence, and becomes frustrated.

Behavioral and Emotional Disorders

Behavior disorders are regarded as those behaviors that students sometimes exhibit that are inappropriate and unacceptable in the classroom or school. Sometimes, students exhibit inappropriate behavior because of emotional disorders but it is often impossible to determine whether or not a student’s behavior is actually caused by an emotional disorder.

For practical reasons, behavioral and emotional disorders can be grouped as one area of special needs. Most students exhibit inappropriate behavior at some time but students regarded as having behavior disorders perform inappropriate behavior more often and usually with greater intensity.

The behavioral disorders that usually concern teachers most are those that affect their teaching and other students, such as classroom disturbances, aggressive teasing or bullying, continual talking and calling out, taking or interfering with other students’ property, inability to work independently or cooperatively, and refusal to comply with the teacher’s instructions.

Teaching Strategies

Students with behavior and emotional disorders have often been excluded from schools in the past.  It is also the case that students who are excluded from school because of unacceptable behavior are more likely to develop more serious behavioral problems away from school. If these students’ needs can be met at school instead, all members of society benefit.

It can be difficult for teachers, other students, other parents, and other community members to accept that students with behavior disorders should receive special assistance. People often regard these students as not deserving anything except punishment.

However, it is the responsibility of teachers to change and modify behavior; after all, education is really a process of changing behavior and appropriate social behavior should really be regarded as just another set of skills to be learned.

In Conclusion

Information and resources to serve the unique needs of persons with disabilities so that each person will meet or exceed high standards of achievement in academic and nonacademic skills.


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