Special Education- Effective if Individualized
With the ever increasing recognition of the fact that some children in the so called mainstream schools also need special education services, special educators have become an active team members of the mainstream schools.
The prevalence of specific learning disorders like reading disorder, writing disorder and arithmetic disorder is estimated between 5 to 15 percent. Among these disorders reading disorder is the most prevalent. The second most common learning disorder is ADHD, the prevalence of which is as high as 3 percent in school age children. They also face a number of learning difficulties apart from behavioral problems.
These children don’t get identified until they reach class II where they are expected to demonstrate some basic academic skills like reading and writing and exhibit effective control on their behaviour especially during the classroom teaching process.
In addition, there are some children who have pervasive developmental disorders (ASD) and below average intellectual functioning (Borderline IQ children) who are also not identified easily until they exhibit some peculiar features leading to referrals for a comprehensive evaluation.
There are some key principles of managing the problems of these children in a regular setup and I am sure there are many experts, perhaps from different professional backgrounds who have a say in this. There could be disagreements, depending on what perspective you take, on issues like level of integration, level of inclusion and range of provision of special services within the school etc., However few would disagree that these children cannot thrive without an individualised understanding of each of these child’s problems.
Some of the key principles are:
- Early identification
- Comprehensive evaluation including functional and formal evaluation
- Early intervention
- Individual sessions
Here are few real scenarios where the above principles were successfully applied by me. The names of the children have been changed to maintain confidentiality.
Scenario 1 “Sometime complete inclusion is too much of a good thing”.
Amit, a student of class II who has a medical diagnosis of Williams Syndrome was facing some very difficult issues in the school. He was socially rejected by his peers due to severe deficits in his social skills. He had poor understanding of social situation.
Upon informal assessment of scholastic skills, it was found that his comprehension skills were severely affected leading to underachievement in academic evaluations.
It was decided to pull out the child for special education classes in order to work on his comprehension skill on a one to one basis. The special education classes were continued for one year and it was proving to be beneficial for the child, however the gaps in his academic skills were severe enough to warrant a different approach. It could be inferred from the child’s overall profile that he might have sub average intelligence and hence the child was sent for a formal IQ evaluation by a Clinical Psychologist. It was found that the child had mild level of intellectual disability.
It was clear that the child needed child centered education in the form of proper IEPs which should consider not only academics but all domains of development. It required many provisions to the child (functional education, prevocational training etc) which was difficult to arrange for in a mainstream setting. Most importantly, his rejection from his peers was leading to an escalation in behavioural problems.
Under the light of all the information, a meeting with his parents was arranged which was attended by the Head mistress, and Counsellor of the school. The parents were convinced about the child’s need for a less inclusive set up. Considering the fact that this step might prove to be counterproductive to the child’s growth, the parents were assured that the child will be admitted back in the Cambridge School if this happens. This assurance made parents secure about their initiative.
Ultimately it was decided that the child be admitted to a special school of good repute. The progress of the child was followed up regularly to ensure that he was settling down in the new setup. The parents reported that he was doing well in the special school. They pointed that he felt more confident in his class and happened to be one of the best students with respect to both academic achievement and behavior. He was readily accepted by his peers.
Scenario 2 “Mainstream teachers can play a vital role in decision making for a child with different needs”.
Neeraj a student of class I when he was identified with learning problems. His class teacher pointed out that he was facing severe difficulties with the acquisition of basic scholastic skills like reading and writing. He was not able to cope up with the demands of the class.
Special education assessment of the child was done. He needed special education as revealed by his assessment of functional academic skills. He fulfilled the criteria for “At-risk Learning disabilities “. Subsequently he was put on remedial and special education classes.
He completed class I with high level of support from both mainstream teachers and special education services. However, it was clear that it would be extremely difficult for him to cope with the increased demands of class II owing to the fact that he was still struggling with the basic skills of reading and spelling.
With the parent’s consent the child was referred for IQ evaluation with the intent that the results would help in making further decisions about the child’s educational needs. He got low average IQ of 85 which was predictable of low achievements and probably slow progress even with the help of special education classes.
Subsequently, a meeting was called with the parents to collaborate in the decision making. It was suggested to the parents that the child might do better if made to repeat the class I. It could make a difference by giving him more time to acquire the basic skills he was lacking.
With the consent of the parents and school regulatory authorities, the child was put again in class I. As expected the child showed better adjustment and steady improvement in his academic skills.
The parents got the psychoeducational assessment of the child done when he was in class III and and child got a formal diagnosis of Specific learning disability (SLD).
By stating the above two scenarios, I wanted to stress the point that special education services can only help the child when all the well wishers of the child understand the specific needs of the child. It cannot be practiced only as a set of techniques to remediate the educational deficits.
The whole educational system plays a role in the welfare of the child by playing their individual roles and most importantly the collaborative role. This might require strong will on the part of the school authorities, parents and teachers as is seen in the above two cases and it will eventually lead to better adjustment and “inclusion” of the child in the “SOCIETY”.
Head of Special Education.
CUBBE Child Care