Focus on special education: What we need to know

by Isaac Osae-Brown

September 25, 2017 | 5:09 pm
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Special education is the practice of educating students with special needs in a way that addresses their individual needs. In the USA, it is a specially designed instruction at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. Research reveals that each day in the United States, millions of children go off to school, all with different strengths and weakness, abilities and disabilities.

Over five million of these children have been identified as having a specific disability including Autism, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, visual and hearing disabilities that necessitate some type of special instruction. To address these children special needs, organizations and schools rely on education specialists who have been trained and highly qualified to help them. These are instructional leaders who play a critical role in the proper education of exceptional students.

This role is packaged to change the course of a child’s life, placing that child on a road to positive self-worth, a sense of accomplishment, and assimilation into society. It is very crucial for all to have knowledge of the wide range of disabilities that children have and the specific needs of every child with that disability.

Identification of a suspected disability

Child Find: it is the process of locating, identifying, and evaluating any student between the ages of 5-21 with an identified or suspected disability by all school districts or public schools. Members of child study team that includes a school administrator, psychologist, school nurse, regular education teacher, social worker, counselor, speech/language and education specialist all work as a unit to determine the possible cause (etiology) of a child’s disability and make recommendations for the referred student.

The Special Education law in the United States, – Individuals with disabilities Act (IDEA), requires that any child who is referred for special education be given a classroom observation. Observing children in different settings is a necessary part of the referral process. A few of the various categories of disabilities defined in the Special Education Law; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 are stated as follows.

Autism: It is a serious developmental disorder characterized by severe impairment in the development of verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Responses to sensations of light, sound and feeling may be exaggerated. There is a delayed speech and language which inhibit the ability to socialize. Children with autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder learn better and are less confused when information is presented visually and verbally.

Children with this disorder normally exhibit poor social skills and impaired cognitive functioning and language. The onset of puberty may increase oppositional or aggressive behavior. The condition is usually reported by most parents before the age of three and is almost in all cases, lifelong. Research reveals that autism is thought to result from a wide range of prenatal, perinatal and postnatal conditions.

It also includes maternal rubella and anoxia during birth, which affects brain function. The condition is more common in males.

Mental/Intellectual disabilities: This disorder is characterized by severe delayed development in the acquisition of cognitive, language, motor and social skills. Children have a developmental delay that causes them to learn at a slower pace than other typical children. They also have difficulty receiving and expressing information. This disturbance may interfere with their developing meaningful relationships. Research reveals several possible contributing factors to this disorder, including heredity, prenatal damage – damage prior to birth such as maternal alcohol consumption, malnutrition, perinatal and postnatal problems. The most common syndromes associated with Intellectual disability are Down Syndrome and Fragile X Syndrome.

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD): Children with this disorder exhibit behaviours of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness that are significantly inappropriate for their age levels. These behaviours may be severe and have an adverse effect on the child’s academic achievement. Research reveals that the condition is six to nine times more common in males than females. Causes may include neurological factors and central nervous system dysfunction, environment, abuse and neglect.

Visual Impairments: This category is divided into two sub-categories: blind and partially sighted. Children who are classified as blind require special Braille equipment and reading materials. Those classified as partially sighted have some functional sight, usually 20/70 or better with best correction. Students with visual impairment may need help with special equipment and modification in the regular curriculum to emphasize communication, orientation/mobility and listening skills.

Hearing Impairment: This category is also divided into two sub-categories: deaf and hard of hearing. Individuals classified as deaf have a loss of hearing. Children with this disability need specialized services and equipment to communicate. Students who are hard of hearing have a hearing loss that may not be permanent but will require specialized instruction and special education support.

Multiple disabilities: Children who are multiply disabled have disabilities in more than one category, (deafness, blindness, autism, dyslexia, spina bifida, etc.). Adaptive aids and equipment enable these children to increase their functional range. (Examples: Wheelchairs, modified handles on cups, head sticks, communication boards and clamps).

Orthopedic impairments: These students are physically disabled and their educational performance is directly affected by this condition. Cerebral Palsy and amputation are included in this category. In addition to therapy services and special equipment, these children may need Assistive technology which include communication devices and computer technology.

Speech impairments: Children under this category have communication disorder. They are unable to produce speech sounds correctly and exhibit stuttering or vocal impairment. Electronic communication systems allow these students to engage in social interactions and shared thought.

Traumatic brain injury: This is defined as acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force resulting to total or partial functional disability which adversely affect the individual’s educational performance. This term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenial or degenerative or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

The education specialist’s responsibility

It is the responsibility of the education specialist to provide direct teaching, focusing on instruction by modifying and adapting to match the learning styles and special needs of each student. These students may be using assistive technology to help them meet the goals of their educational plan.

Education Specialist work with teams to help plan appropriate adaptations and educational interventions for children who are having difficulties in the general education classes. They also act as liaisons between community agencies and their school and helping to collaborate with all parents to meet the functional and academic goals of all students.

If we all believe that every child deserves the best, has a right to basic education, and walk pass the silo piece by building great relationships with individuals with special needs, Nigeria will be a safe haven for all children. The American model of special education law can be studied and applied to the national policy on education instituted by legislation, to help improve the Nigeria education system.

The term “endangered species” is often used to describe animals and plants matter that need to be preserved. Individuals with disabilities often are left out in our discussion and development and when these happen, their right to thrive is not only discarded but is totally abused. Are we prepared to implement a whole school inclusive approach to ensure that disability rights in Nigeria are protected? This is the question that needs an answer. “Every child, including those with disabilities have a right to be empowered through education.” – UNICEF.

Isaac Osae-Brown

Isaac Osae-Brown works for the Compton Unified School District in California, as an Education Specialist and a beginning Teacher Mentor. He is an advocate and a speaker for Special Education services in the United States and abroad.

by Isaac Osae-Brown

September 25, 2017 | 5:09 pm
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