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Special Education: A Change in the Right Direction

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Special Education: A Change in the Right Direction

Eric Matthaey

"There is a brilliant child locked inside every student." Marva Collins. The special education system of the past often forgot this adage. Children who were different were kept separate and not given the same education as other children. They were not held to the same standard or given the opportunities to learn and progress. These children were often forgotten; unless a parent was willing to fight for them. That stigma has changed in the past 15 years. While the number of children labeled special education has increased, our special education system has changed for the better.

IDEA was the basis for the changes that I will discuss. IDEA is the federal program that mandates special education practices. It helped to standardized programs around the country. One way that IDEA had changed special education over the years is in its focus on social skills. Today's special education curriculum includes the teaching of social skills. Social skills are an integral part of everyday life and are something that many special education children struggle with. In the past special education children were segregated and kept with other special education children. This did not help them gain many social skills because all students in the classroom had a problem with social skills. They also did not get to interact in other parts of everyday school life such as lunch or PE, two wonderful times where social skills are learned. These students often didn't interact with other children from the neighborhood because their families wanted to keep them a secret. The children had very few opportunities to observe children or adults interacting within social situations.

These days' social skills are a standard part of an IEP (Armstrong 2003). An IEP is an individualized education plan. It is the legal document that outlines the specific goals and accommodations to help student's function in school. Examples of some of the social skills included in IEP's are things that range from shoe tying to conversation skills, depending on the deficit. There are tests that measure students' social aptitudes then special arrangements are made to meet these challenges (Logsdon, 2008). With special education children spending most of their time in an inclusion setting they are attending lunch, PE, music, art and many other classes or functions that let them interact with their peers. They also are involved in situations that let them practice and observe social skills such as school programs and assemblies. In an inclusion classroom the students also see the teacher interacting with regular education students who do not have any social problems. This allows the special education children the opportunity to learn through observation and not only direct instruction. Social skills are life skills that are very important for the special education students to learn and master. They will help them in school as well as with getting a job in the future.

Another important social skill change in special education has occurred for the older children. Many older students are able to pick a job or skill that they would like to do one day and that skill can be taught to them and mastered (Logsdon, 2008). The skill and ways for the student to learn and improve in doing that skill can all be included in their IEP. This allows the student to focus on certain job skills that will allow them to get a better job once they graduate.

Another major change in special education is the number of students being identified. There are many critics of special education. Right now their main critique of the program is how many more special education students there are now vs. the past. The critics think the current standards are too lose, that we are identifying too many children as special education. The truth is that just as many children had disabilities in the past, but because we did not have accurate and uniform testing methods many went undiagnosed. There also was a stigma that came with being special education in the past and many parents refused to have their children tested let alone identified. Now most parents have the opposite feelings; if there is something to help their child learn and progress they want it. The information that is available has also helped with the stigma. The public as a whole is better informed so there is no need to hide away children with special needs.

Another reason there are more special education students now, is there are more disability categories for them to qualify under. IDEA has 13 disability categories ranging from learning disabled (ex: dyslexia) to traumatic brain injury (which are people who have had a traumatic brain injury though sickness or accident). Having so many different disability categories allows children to qualify under a heading that is going to get them the best support they need. One major change that has contributed to the number of special education students is the developmentally delayed label. This label is for children under the age of 9 and basically means they are not at appropriate age level development but with extra support they may get there. Many children who are labeled DD receive special education services for 3-4 years and then are transitioned out of the program.

The good news is that even though the population has grown by leaps and bounds so has their performance at school. Special education children are passing state standardized



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