Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about having students with learning disabilities being fully mainstreamed into regular education classes. The argument is that these particular students will be given the same access to the material and lessons taught to their non-disabled peer. With this in mind, does it mean that special education is not needed? Truth is, students with learning disabilities will need special education more than ever if all schools went toward full inclusion.
Students with learning disabilities will have a condition that affects their ability to learn at the same rate or procedures as a non-disabled student. The student may have processing disorders that will affect his/her ability to visually or audibly process incoming information at the same rate as regular education students. Sometimes, it takes a student with this disability a few more seconds to process that information, compared to the almost instant processing skills of general education students. Also, sequential orders or memory can be affected. In addition, there are students with dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or some form of Autism whose learning abilities will be greatly affected.
Traditionally, most of these students have been placed in special education classes called Special Day Class (SDC). Here, the students are expected to work at their own rate with all or most of the accommodations or modifications made to their lessons. SDC is often for students who need it for more than 50 percent of the day.
Another form of special education is Resource Special Program (RSP). Depending on the school, district or state, RSP can be a pull-out or “push-in” (fully included) program. Students designated with RSP may have up to 50 percent – or fewer – courses in specialized classes. Some may only need related services such as counseling or speech therapy, and may only require monitoring from a case carrier. Still, RSP students often need to be accommodated by the general education teacher – as specified and monitored by the RSP teacher (or case-carrier). Accommodations mean that the course work is the same for all the students; however, time, flexible setting or anything to help the student with learning disabilities accesse the material and lessons.
Laws such as Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, have one philosophy in mind: all students will have a free and appropriate education. Access to the same educational opportunities have always been there for the student with learning disabilities; however, due to their condition, accommodations and modifications are needed in for them to be successful in obtaining that education. Modification occurs when a student is not learning at grade level and needs to have lessons modified to fit their learning levels.
Individual Education Plans (IEP), an educational plan that establishes a student’s disability and their educational goals and objectives, are often the blue-prints a teacher will need to follow. Even in a fully included class in which the student is taking regular education classes for the entire day, the IEP will dictate how the student is going to be accommodated.
Generally, regular education teachers will not be experts in accommodations or with the types of learning disabilities that a student may have. A special education teacher – SDC or RSP – will have prior knowledge of the student and the conditions after him/her. They can work with the general education teacher to form a better educational plan for that student.
Some students; however, will need specialized courses. Their reading level may be weak or their math skills need to strengthen. Again, the goal of least restrictive environment needs to be kept in mind. This broad and generalized goal states that a students needs to have little or no restrictions placed on their ability to learn. Sometimes, a general education course may place restrictions such as inability to access the board or teacher or the reading material due to being far above the student’s ability. If this is a case, the student needs support courses, access to a learning center or to be placed in a supportive environment such as a special education class.
A goal many teachers and staff have is to ensure that a student with learning disability has the same access to the curriculum as their non-disabled peers. Special education in the form of RSP and inclusion can help these students. On the other hand, specialized courses such as those found in SDC courses, are needed for those who can’t access the education. Depending on the student with learning disability’s individual need, special education – in its various forms – is needed.