Learning disabilities in children is something which cannot be clearly defined. It mainly affects spoken language, written language, memory, arithmetic and reasoning. 6-10 percent of the school-aged children are estimated to have learning disabilities in the United States. It makes academic achievement and progress difficult for the children and their development is found to be uneven. In most cases, these children are found to have compensatory skills even better than others. It is important for the parents and teachers to take proper care of the children from an early age itself, in order to help him get normal education.
Though these disabilities remain throughout the children’s lives, proper care and special attention can reduce its effects on them and help them achieve whatever they earlier found difficult. The disabilities are usually recognized at the time when children join elementary schools because that’s when they try to read, write and memorize. Teachers play an important role in identifying students with various disabilities. Once any of the above mentioned problems is seen, it requires for immediate special attention on the part of the teachers and parents. According to the disabilities, children receive either special attention in ordinary schools, or they are transferred to special schools where teachers are trained to guide and encourage them.
Whether the students attend a special school or a normal school, it is the responsibility of the teachers to give all the care and support to the special needs of students. Students with learning disabilities in elementary schools have a tendency to develop a low self-esteem when they find that they are not capable of doing things the same way and with the same speed as others and that is when the role of instructors comes in. Educators other than regular teachers are often more accepted by the students. Learning support teachers in the elementary LD programs observe and assess these children, and their needs. Separate learning strategies are developed for them with necessary modifications and adaptations to suite their disabilities. For example, demonstrations and visuals are frequently used in teaching. Their performances and progress are constantly monitored, so that changes in teaching methods can be made if essential. Individual attention is required in most cases, and so resource rooms and classrooms in special schools contain only about 8-10 students.
They encourage these students to participate in extra activities like the other normal students or in case of special schools, organize activities which will boost the confidence level of the students. Student disabilities include the inability to understand the teacher instructions. In such cases, direct instructions which do not confuse the children are given. It is found that older students are often helpful to the younger ones. Studies also show that peer tutoring is effective in children with learning disabilities. This requires the teacher to identify peers who are capable of teaching effectively and patiently. There have been successful cases of disabled students teaching other disabled students in the same resource room. This proves that age difference is not a criterion in peer-tutoring programs.(pg-1528, Encyclopedia of Special Education).
For these purposes, enough support is given to the elementary schools. This includes providing itinerant support to the students, their families and teachers, special materials required for teaching them, special education teachers and assistants and consultants to the schools. Elementary school-based counseling is one service provided in schools. Counselors also give personal talks to the students in cases of social or emotional stress. Since, the development as students begins in elementary schools, it is very important to support them the right way, so that they are encouraged to overcome their disabilities at least to an extent.
Middle School Significant Support Needs Class
When entering middle schools, children with learning disabilities face a lot of new problems. The new campuses which are bigger with more teachers and students, the requirement to move from one class to another after each hour, increasing homework and class-work, the introduction of using lockers are just a few of them. Children who attend the resource classes find it difficult to adjust regular studies and special education together. At this age, the students are expected to develop an individuality. The social pressure becomes high and the right guidance must be given by parents and special educators, in order to make progress like the other children.
Middle schools demand more from all students which only worsens the problems of the disabled students. They are required to learn complex theories, and understand itsconcepts. Critical thinking and problem solving becomes important at this level. Learning social skills, life skills and safety skills is difficult for them, but since at this stage, they are encouraged to begin being independent of their parents, a knowledge about these skills becomes essential.
It is at this point that the Special Support Needs program becomes relevant. Every neighbourhood school might give special attention and care to the disabled students. However, not all of them will be successful in providing it to a greater extend. Some of the students may need more than the school provisions. For this reason, Academy School District 20, provides services to meet the needs of all the students. Specialized center-based programs help in reducing the impairments and disabilities of students through Significant Support Needs(SSN) classrooms. “Each middle school and high school has an SSN classroom, and so is able to provide a continuum of services within the building for students with significant cognitive delays or multiple disabilities.” (Special education, 2009).
The idea behind SSN classrooms is to meet the diverse requirements of all students with learning disabilities. Apart from the class teacher, each SSN classroom staffs one or more paraprofessionals. The main goal of such classrooms is to teach the disabled students to be as independent as possible. Every student is made to work independently for at least some time daily, though they are under the supervision of the para-educators throughout the day.Even students with maximum attention, are made to move from one classroom to another independently. Instructions about life, vocational and social skills and recreation-leisure skills are given to the students. Individual guidance is also given individually, based on the student requirements. Peer tutoring, which is one of the best ways, is practiced, along with occasional classes by older students.
The para-educators are responsible for the health and safety of the students. They monitor the performances of the children, and implement the teachers’ lesson plans using techniques understandable to the children. Often these educators develop a very warm relationship with the students which help in guiding them sincerely. Complete devotion and patience are essential in tutoring children with special needs. The co-operation of the students is also important, which includes not only following the educators’ instructions, but also interacting with them about the difficulties that they face. Attempts made in the right direction can help the students develop as successful individuals and be independent in making decisions.
High School Significant Support Needs Class
With the advancement in medical technology and improved diagnosis, most cases of learning disabilities in children are identified at an early stage itself. This helps in giving proper guidance to the them from the elementary school age. Until the 1950s and 1960s, disabled children were not educated or considered equal as others. But with the civil rights movement, parents of disabled children began to demand the same freedom as others, to educate their children in normal schools. Getting a high school diploma is not easy; even normal students do not find every subject easy. Along with this, the school environment and the transition to adult lives provides challenges to them.
Special support must be given to them if they are to succeed in lives. One way, found most effective is, their inclusion at normal high schools and classrooms. Inclusion differs from mainstreaming, which was the only option in earlier times. Inclusion allows the disabled children to attend normal classrooms, but they are provided special coaching in their regular classrooms if required by special education teachers. They need to meet only the Individual Education Program goals in order to get a high school diploma and not necessarily the essentials of that grade level. Mainstreaming, restricted the children to IEP and the end goal was to meet all the essentials of that grade level which they found difficult. They were given special classes in different study hall and not their home classroom. Also, no special education teacher was assigned in earlier times for this purpose. Now, the educational system equally supports children with disabilities. This kind of a partial inclusion model is the best way for them. Inclusive classrooms help them to improve their academic performances, motivate them better and develop as independent individuals.
Another method adopted is the after school classes, which give opportunities to the students in a range of ways. After school programs organize various activities for children with and without disabilities. Many of these activities are extra-curricular, and they make use of technology and supplemental services, and also creative and collaborative planning to enhance everyone’s participation in it. These activities include, theatre and arts, cooking and academic clubs and athletics.
Such activities improve their academic achievement, school attendance, aspirations, social competence and behavior. “After school programs provide students with special needs opportunities to increase their skills while building on their potential.” (Griffin, 2008). It helps them to stay with the high school program providing all the instructions for academic improvement. Physical activities including games, make them healthy and smart, besides providing opportunities to mingle with other students and developing social skills. They are made assume leadership in many of the activities, which teach them the importance of leading and taking responsibilities. As leadership qualities develop, they learn to be independent in decision-making, which makes them more confident about themselves and their talents.
What must be taken care of while selecting the activities for after-school programs is that they must be of interest to the children and not their needs alone. The aim of such programs is to help the children attain the highest degree possible by learning the various life skills. Since, only the fittest survives today, it is of great consequence to equip them with all the qualities that other children have.
Once it is time for children to leave high school, they begin to plan their future and act accordingly. Children with disabilities are not often very successful in planning their future. They are unable to decide whether they would like take up job, join universities for higher studies or learn extra skills required to lead a successful life, because they find every option equally difficult. It is found that almost 47 percent of the disabled students drop out of high schools before they decide whether to pursue higher studies or take up jobs and begin living independently. Transition programs which are of various kinds help them be independent by providing support in getting a job or joining for higher studies.
Transition programs offer different services to the students. Many of them have introduced innovative methods to provide the students with real-life skills and job experiences. Some of them enable the students to join for higher studies in universities. Vocational Rehabilitation(VR) program is an example of such a transition program.
VR program becomes important when the students begin to plan about what to do after high school. They begin their services when the students are still in school or after completing high school education by providing opportunities for students with disabilities in higher education, additional formal skill training and job placements. Attaining a job requires the students to have knowledge about proper money management. Many of the jobs also require for a thorough information about the latest technologies and developments and methods of making use of them. The students will need the guidance of someone like special educators at school, to inform about all available opportunities. While the special classes in schools help in being socially and individually independent, VR program helps in becoming economically independent through work.
The first step in it is the reference given by high school to VR, following what they will begin preparing the necessary paperwork for the program, so that help can be provided as early as possible after the student finishes his high school education. The students will be contacted by the VR counselor for interviews in order to decide what services are required for each student based on individual disabilities and requirements. Planning for a vocational goal is usually begun while the student is still in school. IPE or Individual Plan for Employment is developed by the counselor for the students. “…it includes: your vocational goal, intermediate objectives, responsibilities that both you and the counselor have accepted, and a list of services that VR will sponsor.” (Services for students transitioning from school to work, 2009). This is based on an agreement signed by the students and the counselor after the interviews.
However, there certain limitations to what the VR program can do. It cannot sponsor for any educational services before the students have completed high school education. If a high school does not have an agreement with VR program, then their services are limited to finishing the eligibility process of the students.
Though transition programs are of great help to the disabled students, they have taken a back seat due to a number of reasons like, the lack of enough efficient transition specialists. It is found that only 30 percent of the disabled graduates and 45 percent of the post-graduate students take up jobs successfully. It is absolutely essential to understand that special services are necessary until the students finish their education and successfully take up jobs.
Secondary Sied Program
SIED refers to significant identifiable emotional disabilities in children. It includes an inability to learn which cannot be explained by the intellectual, sensory or health factors, inability to mingle and interact socially and effectively with teachers and peers, inappropriate behavioral patterns, depression and symptoms of fear for personal and school matters. Such students behave aggressively towards people unexpectedly, occasionally has hallucinations. All these problems affect their academics because, they are unable to concentrate most of the time in class. They are unable to build friends because of their lack of social skills. Any student who misbehaves in school can be suspended or expelled from the institution and this includes even students with disabilities. Three instances of misbehavior can lead to their suspension upto ten days a year. It is important to guide them properly, so that they do not face suspension for reasons they are not consciously responsible.
It is the responsibility of the teachers to understand and cope better with behavior problems of the students in classrooms. They must help them improve in academics and other activities. They must also refer the students to mental health services outside the school, if necessary. Each student will have different behavioral problems. The teacher should be able to identify the needs of individual students and use different methods for each case. RTI or Response to Intervention is an approach is SIED program to promote the general, compensatory, gifted education in students with high-standard instruction methods matching the children’s behavioral and emotional needs. Extra support is given by the educators, including the teachers and special educators in academics and extra activities. Intensive support teams help the children in improving their academic results which also improves their behavioral problems to an extent. Counselors and special educators play an important role in understanding the requirements of the children, since they spend most of their time with students.
Emotional disturbances must be carefully treated, because very often the cases are complex. Every student must be taught to trust others, feel worthy enough of oneself to take responsibilities. They must be taught to control their impulses and behaviors according to the different environments. They should understand how to interact successfully with their peers and politely with their teachers. The students must learn to cope with stress, which is very important once they are in high school, universities or jobs. Teachers must also create an environment encouraging for the students, by explaining to the other students, the need the accommodate the requirements of disabled students. Predictable environments help the students to an extend in controlling their impulses, because generally unexpected happenings frighten them. “Environmental management refers to thesystematic use of resources, physical factors, and organizational andcommunication schema to structure the students total environment for the of providing necessary support and control.” (Skalski, 2000).
Apart from this, SIED researchers also study more cases of emotional disturbances in order to innovate new techniques which will greatly help the students in a better way. This program is very helpful and of great relevance because emotional development is as important as physical and mental development in leading a successful career and life.
Griffin, Marissa. (2008). After school and students with special needs. After School Alert Issue Brief. Web.
Services for students transitioning from school to work. (2009). DES. Web.
Skalski, Anastasia Kalamaros. (2000). Guidebook for determining the eligibility of students with a significant identifiable emotional disability (SIED). Colorado Department of Education. Web.
Special education. (2009). Academy District 20. Web.