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Exceptional Students

Every year there are changes made about a child’s education, in the attempt to provide the best education possible for children. In recent years, the education of students with disabilities, who were previously not educated in the regular school system, has been publicly debated. The idea of inclusion, or mainstreaming has received a great deal of support. Although there is the need to adapt programs and sometimes classroom environments for the child with special needs, there are many benefits for all that are included in this situation.

This paper will define the phrase “mainstreaming”, and what constitutes a child with disabilities. The role that teachers play within the classroom is one that will affect all students. The importance of teachers will be discussed as to their influence on children and parents. As well, strategies that a child and youth care worker could use when working with the disabled will be discussed. Over the past 30-35 years there have been much advancement made towards the education of students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities can include students with “mental retardation, hearing impairment (deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (blindness), serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, health impairments, or learning disabilities. ” (Deiner 1993, p. 27) In the past, disabled children were often placed in institutions, or kept in the home, with no form of education. Educating the disabled was thought to be a waste of time, since their future roles were limited.

At the present time, inclusion begins early, within the schools, and continues throughout the life span, through employment. There has be a significant shift away from the placement of disabled children in institutions, and instead into the classroom. This idea of “mainstreaming” means moving handicapped children to the least restrictive environment, away from segregated classes and into regular classes. These changes have occurred for many reasons.

Parents began to advocate for their disabled children, and put pressure on administration and lawmakers to allow children equal chances. Federal legislature ruled in favor of the development of special education programs. Court decisions ruled in favor of every child’s right to receive public education. The education system has slowly begun to emphasize the individual learning, rather than class teaching as a result of these changes. Obviously, children who have disabilities are going to require some form of adjustment to their program or classroom.

Although teachers have had many mixed feelings about the inclusion of children into regular classes, many benefits exist not only for the child with special needs, but also for the teacher and regular students as well. For teachers having some knowledge about disabilities tends to increase their confidence in working with students that do have special needs. They have an increased chance of developing more personal relationships with the parents of these students, and are required to work with parents, professionals and specialists to develop beneficial programs for these special students.

The attitude teachers’ display in the classroom towards children with disabilities will reflect the way children without disabilities treat these disabled children. If teachers are understanding and sensitive to the needs of the disabled student, other students will be also. Children often learn to be more accepting of classmates and interact with them as individuals. This often helps to diminish stereotyping of handicapped people. Being placed in a regular school setting is very beneficial for the disabled child also.

They often have more success academically and socially when they are included, and are better prepared for the real world. Being enrolled in special education classes may give a great deal of individual attention, but when students want to attend a higher level of education or enter the workforce, they realized that the real world operates very differently. There are some difficulties being experienced around the idea of mainstreaming. The ability to provide sufficient funding for inclusion is difficult.

School budgets are continually decreasing, and federal aid is not sufficient. Classes continue to grow in size, increasing the ratio of students to teacher. The more students in the class, the more difficult it is to have individualized programs for students. Teachers need to take a management course of some sort to work with students that have special needs, and maintaining constant interaction with resources teachers or professionals will foster continual learning. Some parents may also resist the whole ideal of mainstreaming.

They finally received special education for their children, and if they include them in regular classes, the services they finally received will gradually diminish. Although there are both negative and positive outlooks on the subject of inclusion, it continues to be studied, evaluated and assessed. So why has mainstreaming become, for the most part, an accepted and suitable alternative for children with disabilities. It has received support and increasing attention since it is directed at development of the child.

The law states that every child, regardless of disability, has the right to free public education. (Deiner 1993, p. 26) The purpose of education for disabled students is to provide basic skills and knowledge, to teach them to function independently in the community, and to develop minimum occupational skills to allow them to be self-supporting as adults. During their educational learning children need to develop the characteristic of self-determination (Field 1996, p. 40). The idea of self-determination includes self-actualization, assertiveness and pride.

Many of these characteristics are worked on during high school, as preparation for the “real world”, though learning these skills in early childhood will help develop attitudes, abilities and skills to define goals and take initiative to reach them throughout their life span. There are many techniques that have been studied, in attempts to determine the best possible way to teach specifically to children with disabilities, and to the regular students in the class. Some of these instructional strategies, as suggested by Field (1996) include modeling, choices, attribution retaining, and behavioral strategies.

Modeling can occur directly or indirectly. Models whether adults or teacher, can demonstrate the specific skill directly, or indirectly encourage children to watch those that are consistently demonstrating the behavior(s) related to self-determination. Based on the idea of modeling, students can be placed with mentors, those who have similar interests and challenges as the student that is placed with them (Field1996, p. 47), or be placed in a group of peers, and learn by them through cooperative learning. Providing children with choice lets them use feedback to determine their choices.

They are then learning by experience, not by consequences. Children with learning disabilities often develop a feeling of “learned helplessness”. This is caused as a result of continual failure, and develops the expectations of future failure. This has negative effects on self-esteem, risk taking and achievement motivation. When teachers focus on individual successes, rather than standard expectations, the ideas of learned helplessness will gradually diminish. Behavior strategies are another area those working with disabled student can work on.

Obviously, using reinforcement techniques can help develop, encourage and maintain motivation, positive self-esteem, and creativity. Behavior modification programs could be used as guides for teachers when trying to find what will reinforce a specific child. One area, which is being developed, is the idea of the multi-age classroom. This type of class drops the traditional grade level parameters, and instead focuses on teaching the children based on their individual needs. Children progress at their own rate without the fear of failure, and learn without the stress of the traditional evaluation method.

Teachers in this setting are able to be creative, and plan activities and learning materials based on the child’s ability and goals. Students with and without disabilities enjoy activity learning (Klingner & Vaughn 1999), and feel they learn from it. Since inclusion is growing steadily, individualized programming remains. Methods for teaching the disabled student need to be adapted from the traditional method of group teachings. As a person in the child and youth profession, you are required to help these children succeed, and grow through the integration of special and regular classes.

Studies show that one-to-one and small group instruction is superior to class instruction for more engaged behaviors of students with disabilities. As well, focus on the student with disability by the teacher causes higher level of engaged behaviors. The ability for the teacher and special education teacher to work together in a team teaching role will definitely benefit the student (Logan, Bakeman & Keefe 1997). Planning is the key to successful disabled children. As a child and youth worker you need to be able to adapt programs for children, based on their ability, and be willing to help them reach their goals.

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