Special Education Inclusion

Special education inclusion signifies the participation of special education students in regular education classrooms and provision of support services to these students. The main objective of inclusive education is that all students in a school, regardless of their strengths and their weaknesses in any area, become part of the school community. Every student develops a feeling of belonging with other students, teachers, and support staff.

In segregated special education, children will not learn how to function in a non-disabled world. For instance, children who are disabled regarding communication and are emotionally distressed would not communicate and might remain in a more emotionally disturbed state in segregated settings. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) holds it mandatory for schools to educate children with disabilities in general education classrooms.

The principal advantage of special education inclusion is that both disabled and non-disabled students are brought together in an environment of togetherness. Children learn to accept individual differences in inclusion education, and this would lead to the development of new friendly relationships. Inclusion education also enables active participation of parents in their child’s education. The law also states that students with disabilities have a legal right to attend regular classes and receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. Although the advantages are many, inclusion education creates uncertainty regarding the roles and responsibilities of regular classroom teachers and special education teachers.

Special education refers to alternative education services designed to cater to the needs of individuals suffering from physical and mental drawbacks such as physical handicaps, sensory (visual and hearing) impairments, intellectual capacity (mental retardation and autism), learning disabilities (reading and writing skills), speech impairment and those with behavior disorders. It seeks to address problems of the individual, as well as provide effective solutions through a set of formulated instructions, service aids and supports, learning techniques, and transitions services.

History of Special Education

Over the last 20+ years, I have been on both sides of education. I have seen and felt what it was like to be a regular mainstream educator dealing with special education policy, special education students and their specialized teachers. I have also been on the special education side trying to get regular education teachers to work more efficiently with my special education students through modifying their instruction and materials and having a little more patience and empathy.

Furthermore, I have been a mainstream regular education teacher who taught regular education inclusion classes trying to figure out how to best work with some new special education teacher in my class and his or her special education students as well. And, in contrast, I have been a special education inclusion teacher intruding on the territory of some regular education teachers with my special education students and the modifications I thought these teachers should implement. I can tell you first-hand that none of this give and take between special education and regular education has been easy. Nor do I see this pushing and pulling becoming easy any time soon.

So, what is special education? And what makes it so special and yet so complex and controversial sometimes? Well, special education, as its name suggests, is a specialized branch of education. It claims its lineage to such people as Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard (1775-1838), the physician who “tamed” the “wild boy of Aveyron,” and Anne Sullivan Macy (1866-1936), the teacher who “worked miracles” with Helen Keller.

Special educators teach students who have physical, cognitive, language, learning, sensory, and emotional abilities that deviate from those of the general population. Special educators provide instruction specifically tailored to meet individualized needs. These teachers make education more available and accessible to students who otherwise would have limited access to education due to whatever disability they are struggling with.

It’s not just the teachers though who play a role in the history of special education in this country. Physicians and clergy, including Card- mentioned above, Edouard O. Seguin (1812-1880), Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876), and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851) wanted to ameliorate the neglectful, often abusive treatment of individuals with disabilities. Sadly, education in this country was, more often than not, very neglectful and abusive when dealing with students that are different somehow.

There is even a rich literature in our nation that describes the treatment provided to individuals with disabilities in the 1800s and early 1900s. Sadly, in these stories, as well as in the real world, the segment of our population with disabilities was often confined in jails and almshouses without decent food, clothing, personal hygiene, and exercise.

For an example of this different treatment in our literature, one needs to look no further than Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). Also, many times people with disabilities were often portrayed as villains, such as in the book Captain Hook in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” in 1911.

The prevailing view of the authors of this period was that one should submit to misfortunes, both as a form of obedience to God’s will, and because these seeming misfortunes are ultimately intended for one’s good. Progress for our people with disabilities was hard to come by at this time with this way of thinking permeating our society, literature, and thinking.

So, what was society to do about these people of misfortune? Well, during much of the nineteenth century, and early in the twentieth, professionals believed individuals with disabilities were best treated in residential facilities in rural environments. An out of sight out of mind kind of thing, if you will…

However, by the end of the nineteenth century, the size of these institutions had increased so dramatically that the goal of rehabilitation for people with disabilities just wasn’t working. Institutions became instruments for permanent segregation.

Process of Special Education

Special education had come a long way from the days when it was all about hiding children away that could not be classed as normal. Children who were in the system went from relative isolation to integration, to inclusion and today we are moving to the point of encouraging empowerment and self-determination. It has become a well-established system that caters to the needs of students who have an IQ within a certain range (too high or too low) or have behavioral disorders that dictate the need for them to receive additional attention.

Also, it also caters for those who have learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, other health impairments, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, autism, visual impairments, traumatic brain injury, developmental delay, deaf-blindness, etc.

Values To Guide Dealing With Children In Special Education

In their book Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today’s Schools, the authors (Turnbull, Turnbull, Shank, Smith, and Leal) came up with several guidelines that need to be considered when dealing with people who require additional help.

(1) Envisioning Great Expectations

We are not to place limitations on students capabilities. It is always in the interest of the student to ‘develop new visions of what is possible’ and strive to see these visions becoming a reality.

(2) Enhancing Positive Contributions

Seek to create opportunities for students to contribute positively to those close to them. This awakens a feeling of empowerment in the individuals especially if it includes their families, schools, and communities.

(3) Building On Strengths

Everybody has strengths, whether we know them or not. Finding out these strengths and building on them should be one of the key focuses. Another idea is often to find the weaknesses in a person and strive to turn them into strengths.

(4) Acting on Choices

It is essential for families and their children to know that they have the right and the opportunity to direct their own lives. They are not confined to the limitations set by anyone else, but rather they can build self-determination by acting on their preferences.

Specialized method of Special Education

The goal of special education is to address the needs of these special individuals (children, youth, and adults) and ensure that they gain equal access to quality education regardless of their condition. In effect, it encourages them to keep up with the challenges of regular education and help improve their chances for success in life.

The primary focus of this special type of education is to provide support and learning techniques to the individual. Children are properly educated in the most learning-conducive environment to help them discover their in-depth skills and abilities hidden behind the disabilities they might have.

But not everyone can employ this educational service. As such, before the person can avail of it, different levels of evaluations must take place. The processes can vary, though the initial stages include referral, parental consent, child evaluation and review and recommendation of appropriate institutionalized methods.

An afterthought…

In today’s society, there are more than 6 million children and youth estimated to be suffering from disabilities, and the demand for special education has grown by leaps and bounds. By properly dealing with the issues and problems concerned and finding solutions, special education can give them the chance to stand up and be on equal footing with their peers, drawing out their true potentials as key movers and principal contributors to society regardless of their physical and mental difficulties.

However, researchers show that inclusive education can be made effective by a strong collaboration of special education teachers and regular teachers. With the assistance of services that would be available from the health department, physical education department, occupational therapists, speech therapists, etc., the school administration can aid the teachers to develop effective lesson plans for inclusion education. Thus schools can create a cooperative learning environment and promote socialization.