Who Receives Special Education?
In the United States, school-aged children with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education. It is illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. An individual cannot be denied an education or a job because of a disability. Special education is mandated to provide services to students who have been identified as unable to progress effectively in the general classroom as a result of that disability. It is important to note that the presence of a disability alone is not sufficient reason to initiate special education services. Special education is warranted only after all attempts to help a youngster within the confines of the general classroom have proved ineffective.
In the first textbook dealing with the "education of exceptional children," Horn (1924) observed that mental, temperamental, and physical differences were the bases for some students needing special education. Today, many states organize their special education departments along similar categorical lines. A category is a descriptor or label assigned to a group of students. Although the names of the categories vary slightly from state to state, special education is generally provided for children within each of the following categories:
- Students with visual impairments or blindness
- Students with hearing impairments or deafness
- Students with deafness and blindness
- Students with orthopedic impairments
- Students with multiple disabilities
- Students with language or speech impairments
- Students with learning disabilities
- Students with emotional disturbances
- Students with mental retardation
- Students with autism
- Students with traumatic brain injury
- Students with developmental delay
- Students with health impairments
Special learning needs in areas of physical abilities (e.g., seeing, hearing, moving) are the basis for several categories of students with special needs. Most of us take normal vision and hearing for granted. The expression "20/20 vision" is used to describe normal visual functioning. Vision is measured by having people read letters or discriminate objects at a distance of 20 feet. The task is not difficult for most people. There are people, however, who must stand closer to see what others see easily from 20 feet away. These differences in visual functioning are the basis of deciding whether a student is blind or visually impaired. There are also people who even at a louder volume cannot hear what can easily be heard by the majority. Between normal hearing and deafness are various degrees of hearing loss, and it is these differences in degrees of hearing that are the basis for another category of exceptional students (i.e., deaf or hearing impaired).
How different does vision or hearing have to be before a person is considered blind or deaf? A person who, even with correction (e.g., glasses), must be 20 feet from a target that a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet or more is considered blind. People with corrected vision better than 20/200 but not better than 20/70 are considered visually impaired. Ability to hear is measured along two scales: intensity and frequency. Intensity or loudness is measured in decibels (dB), and frequency or pitch is measured in hertz (cycles per second). Moores (1982) defines deaf and hard of hearing in terms of the effects on hearing loss:
A deaf person is one whose hearing is disabled to an extent (usually 70 dB or greater) that precludes the understanding of speech through the ear alone. without or with the use of a hearing aid. A hard of hearing person is one whose hearing is disabled to an extent (usually 35-69 dB) that makes difficult, but does not preclude, the understanding of speech through the ear alone, without or with a hearing aid. (p. 17)
For practical purposes, deafness means the absence of hearing in both ears; people with deafness have great difficulty hearing conversational speech without the assistance of a hearing aid. People with hearing impairments experience significant difficulty in hearing.
There are other disabling conditions that are of a physical nature. For example, arthritis is a measurable inflammation of a joint that limits movement. Cerebral palsy is impaired motor function due to brain damage; it produces difficulties in motor control that are observable in movement of large and small muscle groups. Seizure disorder (i.e., epilepsy) is also a brain disorder that results in convulsive episodes and periods of unconsciousness. Other health impairments include severe orthopedic problems that adversely affect educational performance and limit strength, vitality, or alertness. Special education may be provided to people with physical differences caused by congenital anomalies (e.g., spina bifida) as well as other general health and physical problems (e.g., heart disease, asthma, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, autism).
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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