The Special Needs Students: Safe and Supportive Learning Environment

Many nations around the world have dedicated much of their resources into the development of their educational institutions. Every year, schools undergo a series of assessments in order to maintain a standard of quality education with regards to the institution’s curriculum, facilities, student and faculty performance, etc. However, schools that cater to students with special needs handle more duties to uphold required standards in order to provide each and every student a safe and supportive learning environment.

Physically disabled students and those with special learning disabilities have distinct needs in coping inside the classroom. The diversity and number of students who have been diagnosed as physically handicapped present a certain level of difficulty in programming. (Hartlage & Hartlage 1986) Some examples of students under this category are those bound to wheelchairs due to motor or neurological problems; and, those with hearing, visual, and speech impairments. Students who need wheelchairs, crutches, or hearing or visual aids require the schools to be equipped with ramps, accessible classrooms, lunchrooms, restrooms, and special buses with lifts and locks. In addition, the school’s doctor and psychologist should work together and be aware of not only their physical needs, but also their psychosocial necessities and backgrounds (1986).

On the other hand, the academically gifted, students with learning disabilities such as the mentally retarded, or those with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), also need specialized programs that will enable the students to cope with learning or reinforce their skills.

A comparison may be conducted in order to distinguish the specific needs for these two categories of special students. In this case, a student with ADD (Student X) will be paralleled with one that has hearing impairment (Student Y).

Student X Student Y
  • Formerly known as hyperactivity.
  • In 1902, it was found most common in boys (Routh 1986)
  • Related to certain congenital anomalies.
  • Was treated with the drug, Benzedrine in 1937. A stimulant drug to help in concentration.
  • Symptoms are more severe in young children
  • Usually exceptional in certain skills or disciplines (e.g. Mathematics, visual art)
  • It has levels of degree, from full sensitivity to sound or to lack or complete lack of hearing.
  • Auditory acuity also depends on one’s ability to perceive various levels of pitch.
  • Impairment may be acquired by birth or by environmental and external factors.
  • Those with no hearing prior to exposure to speech (prelingual deaf) have more serious problems.
  • Uses the unit of Hertz (Hz) as measure.
Off Task Behavior
  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity; acts before thinking
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggression
  • Low sociability
  • Aggression due to frustration
  • Inattention

Table A. Comparison of two special needs students

School support systems for the auditory impaired and those with ADD obviously vary from each other by virtue of their nature as special needs categories. Also, if one were to look at a sample observation for both students, one can immediately conclude that specialized programs for both special needs students require tedious planning and systematic execution. Table B and C will show sample behavioral observations during a class session for Student X and Y.

Table B. Sample behavioral observation for Student X

(Student X)
Morning Session
(9:00 am – 11:30 am)
Frequency Intensity Duration
V. Brief Seconds Minutes
Inattention Approx. every 3 to 10 minutes Low to medium
Impulsivity Approx. every 30 mins to an hour medium
Hyperactivity Very often Medium to high
Aggression Once Medium to high

Table C. Sample behavioral observation for Student Y

(Student Y)
Morning Session
(9:00 am – 11:30 am)
Frequency Intensity Duration
V. Brief Seconds Minutes
Low sociability often Medium
Aggression due to frustration rare Low to
Inattention Very often Medium to high

Aside from the special facilities mentioned earlier, proper classroom management needs to be integrated with specific educational philosophies to effectively deliver learning to the students and develop their existing skills. For the student with ADD, it is critical for the school to have the services of a behavioral therapist. (Routh 1986) These professionals not only specialize in students with ADD, but also with other learning disabilities. The therapist and the teacher should work closely together to provide the student with individualized activities such as special workbooks, manipulative toys, and assessment procedures. (Campbell 1977) The behavioral approach on the treatment for ADD targets specific responses of students to certain situations, unlike the pharmacological researches which only aim to match the symptom with stimulant drugs. But probably the most effective approach to ADD, conducted by Silver and Hagin in 1976, is the formation of intervention groups that aim to give the students tailored educational tutoring for the improvement of their academic performance as well as their behavioral dysfunctions. Sixth-graders who joined this group were observed to have performed better academically and were able to better cope emotionally than others.

For those with physical disabilities, the problems they are often faced with, more than their physical inadequacies, is the social and emotional impact brought about by their impairments. Therefore, the best support for any educational institution should be based primarily on the psychological perspectives involved and their implications on students’ emotional and social adjustments to the school, their teachers, and their peers (Newland 1986).

The formal determination of the cause of the student’s impairment should be a prerogative for the school. Knowledge of this will help both the therapist and instructor in creating specialized activities for the learner. In 1940, the state of Pennsylvania enacted a mandate to test each school child’s hearing every three years. This program is still in effect to this day (1986). Also, parental involvement has quickly gained recognition in educational institutions worldwide because prior to speech therapists, their initial observation of the child helps in the immediate determination of any auditory problem.

According to Newland (1986), certain “givens” must also be instilled within the institution, along with the teachers and staff when dealing with auditory impaired students. First given is “the student in active”. Beyond the obvious fact that the students are live beings, what this given is actually pointing out is the importance of the teacher’s familiarity to various sources of stimuli. The student reacts to both internal and external stimuli, and using diverse forms of stimuli for learning ensures better comprehension and absorption of information for any student. The second given is “the student manifests a pattern of development or maturity.” This means that the development of the student with regards to learning has a definite progression and observation of these patterns will enable the teacher to develop a linear and dynamic curriculum for these students. The student’s reaction to his or her social milieu is the third given’s main point. This implies that each student will have a different reaction to their social surroundings which places an importance on the timing of mainstreaming the student or placing them in special classes. (1986) Mainstreaming involves integration with regular students and early or late exposure to this type of classroom environment is a factor on the child’s future ability to socialize with others. Timing and proper guidance is the key to catering to this type of support system. Finally, the fourth and last given is “the student learns.” The student should not be treated as a mere passive receiver because of his or her disability. (1986) The role of the teacher is not only to input information to the child. Processing of the students’ responses and providing feedback will allow for a holistic classroom interaction for the teacher and the learner. Students who have lost hearing during the prelingual stage tend to have greater specialized instructional materials for leaning, and it is the responsibility of the school to provide this. These unique problems of students should not be treated as an impediment to learning. The hearing impaired has great psychological concern for communication with other people, and so, how communication is bridged between the disabled and the regular person needs constant attention and support. Knowledge of sign language and other visual aids is a must for many special schools at present. Providing a means for special students to connect with their peers will not only become an effective avenue for learning, but more importantly for socialization and non-isolation.

Lastly, for both categories of special students, the tandem of the school and the parents may be the most essential form of continuous reinforcement that can be given to the child. Regular parent-teacher conferences on the student’s progress are an assurance of a holistic support system for all those involved in the learning process.


  1. Campbell, S.B., Endman, M.W., and G. Bernfeld. 1977. “Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry,” Michigan.
  2. Hartlage, P.L. and L. Hartlage. 1986. Epilepsy and other neurological and neuromuscular handicaps. New York: Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  3. Newland, Ernest. 1986. Children with auditory and visual impairment.Psychological Perspectives on Childhood Exceptionality”. New York: Wiley Publications.
  4. Routh, Donald. 1986. Attention Deficit Disorder. ”Psychological Perspectives on Childhood Exceptionality”. New York: Wiley Publications.
  5. Rutter, M., Cox, A., Tupling, C., Berger, M., and W. Yule. 1975. Attachment and adjustment in two geographical areas. “British Journal of Psychiatry,” London.