Special education is education that addresses the individual differences and requirements of a student with special needs.
Statistically, the most frequent forms of special needs are learning disabilities, which are impairments in specific aspects of learning and especially of reading. Learning disabilities account for about half of all special educational needs—as much as all other types put together. Somewhat less common are speech and language disorders, intellectual disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (or ADHD).
Since the 1970s support for people with disabilities and special educational needs has grown significantly. Political and social attitudes have moved increasingly toward including people with disabilities into a wide variety of ‘regular’ activities.
Case Study: Legalisation changes in the USA and its effects
Three major laws were passed in the USA since the 1970’s that guaranteed the rights of persons with disabilities, and of children and students with disabilities in particular.
American laws related to students with special educational needs:
1. Rehabilitation Act of 1973: This law required that individuals with disabilities be accommodated in any program or activity that receives funding from the government funding.
2. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: This law prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability. This law is responsibility for some of the minor renovations in schools in recent years like wheelchair-accessible doors, ramps and bathrooms.
3. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 1975/2004: This law guarantees the following rights related to education for anyone with a disability from birth to age 21:
• Free appropriate education
• Due process
• Fair evaluation of performance in spite of disability
• Education in the ‘least restrictive environment’
• An individualised educational plan.
These laws affected teachers’ work in the classroom and had a big impact on education in general.
Similar changes in laws have occurred in countries all over the world. While most teachers certainly support these changes in broad terms, others have found the prospect of applying it in classrooms leads to a number of questions and concerns.
Possible concerns from teachers:
• Will a student with a disability disrupt the class?
• Will the student interfere with covering the curriculum?
• Will the student be teased by classmates?
These are legitimate concerns from teachers. One step towards reducing these concerns is to learn more about the general responsibilities of teachers for students with disabilities.
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