As an adage goes, teaching is the noblest profession. But in the teaching profession, nothing can be nobler than being immersed in special education. Indeed nothing could surpass the joy of a teacher who has helped improve the condition of the child having disabilities. The task is complex and the challenge is great but the joy of seeing the child learn and improve compensates for all the hard work. The goal is for the child to ultimately be in the same class with regular students and attend regular classes. (Shanon Taylor, 2005) This goal, however, cannot be realized through the sole effort of the teacher. A good teamwork between the parents and the teachers is necessary for special education.
Special Education is a branch of education whose primary purpose is to teach individuals with learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury and other health impairments. (Connie Langland, 2005). It not only involves the giving of special classes and instruction to the child but also psychological and counseling services to help develop and improve the child’s condition.
Mental Retardation and Autism
Under Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), mental retardation is defined as ". . . significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child's educational performance." It is the condition where a person has certain limitations in mental functioning and in skills.
Autism, on the other hand, is a developmental disorder affecting children from birth or the early months of life. (Jennifer Humphries, 2000) It results in the delay in, and deviance from, the normal patterns of development. Those who have autism usually has difficulties with the forming relationship with people, or they have difficulties understanding and communicating what other people are trying to communicate, or they have difficulties using their imagination. Research shows that the number of children ages 6 through 21 diagnosed with autism receiving services under IDEA has increased more than 500 percent over the past 10 years, from under 20,000 in 1993 to almost 120,000 in 2002, according to data collected by the Department of Education. (“Children With Autism”)
Children with multiple disabilities may involve a child with a combination the following disabilities: speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury and other health impairments.
Among the possible causes of mental retardation and autism are genetic conditions; problems during pregnancy; problems at birth and health problems.
Children with learning disabilities do not learn at the same space that an average student does. This is because their conditions affect the complete development of their mind. The child experiences delayed development of skills insofar as language, thinking and movement and social skills are concerned. Behavioral problems may also become manifest making learning and interaction with the child very difficult. It must, however, be emphasized that they most students who have learning disabilities usually have average or above average cognitive skills making them capable of learning. (Sue Watson, 2007)
Special Curriculum of Children with Special Needs
A child who has the learning disability may still learn if effective learning strategies are utilized. (“Strategies for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities”) He needs the guidance of his parents more. (Sharon Helt) Active participation and involvement by the parents in special education is very important. Research shows that the involvement of the parent in the children’s learning is positively related to the child’s achievement and that the more intensively parents are involved in their children’s education, the more beneficial it will be for the child (Kathleen Cotton and Karen Reed Wikelund)
However, in view of the special condition of the child, the active involvement of the parent is not sufficient. (“Who’s Teaching Our Children With Disabilities”) An ordinary parent who has no training in dealing with children who have disabilities is not qualified to deal with this situation. Parents, therefore, need the help of well-trained professional who can assist them in determining whether the child really has disabilities and whether the child needs to enroll in special education. Thus, a close collaboration and partnership, not just a working relationship, between the parents and the child’s teachers is important to achieve the results.
Once a child is determined to be eligible for special education services, a team known as the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team will be convened for the purpose of developing an education program that meets the specific needs of the child. In view of the child’s condition, for every class, it is necessary that the class is limited to a small number of students. The teacher-student ratio should be at a small number so that the progress of the child may be closely monitored and the curriculum is individualized depending on the child’s disability. It is suggested that different learning techniques must be utilized so as to capture the child’s attention and to promote learning.
Individuals with severe disabilities need patience and time to learn. They do not learn in the same pace as an average individual does. It is suggested that in cases of class discussion teachers should break down the discussion into small steps. Learning takes place one step at the time and that it is only after the student has mastered the one step that the next step will be made.
Learning becomes easier also if the teacher utilizes visual aids. Research also shows that children with disabilities do better in environments where learning is aided by visual aids such as charts, pictures, and graphs. Not only does the teacher capture the students’ attention but he also arouses the children’s imagination.
Hands-on tasks are also important. Most students learn by doing tasks rather than by listening. Abstract discussion of concepts will not facilitate learning and may even discourage the child from attending classes. Thus, it is suggested that the teacher should demonstrate the class topic by means of simple class activities. (“Useful Methods for Teaching Mentally Retarded Students”) Say, instead of the teacher giving an abstract discussion of what gravity is and its effects, it is suggested that he should allow one student to drop a book so that he will actually experience what gravity and its effects are.
Under the law every child is entitled to an appropriate public education regardless of his condition. A person who has a disability needs special techniques that are usually not given to other students. It is suggested that the teachers make use of techniques mentioned. In my community I have observed that the teachers of children with mental retardation, autism or multiple disabilities are given the proper education that they deserve. I have also noticed that different techniques are being utilized depending on the child’s response so that learning is maximized.
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