Special education has emerged as one of the most critical fields in education today. Governed by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education serves a growing number of students each year. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that during the 2019-2020 school year, 7.3 million (14%) of all public-school students between 3 and 21 years old received special education services. According to the Pew Research Center, since 2000, the population of students with disabilities has grown in most states.
These students qualify for special education due to their mental, physical, emotional and behavioral exceptionalities. Most commonly, these students have specific learning disabilities (33% of all special education students). Plus, the percentage of students diagnosed with autism has risen dramatically in the two decades. According to NCES data, around the year 2000, 1.5% of students with disabilities had been diagnosed with autism. That figure rose to 11% for the 2019-2020 school year.
Teachers with certifications in learning and behavior disorders (LBD) have completed educational programs that prepare them to deliver on the IDEA's promise: to provide a "free appropriate public education" to students with disabilities, and to the "maximum extent appropriate," educating them alongside their non-disabled peers in the "least restrictive environment."
LBD encompasses students with both learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or a brain injury, and varying levels of behavioral capacities — which could include students with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). LBD-certified educators are well prepared to move into special education and provide optimal learning experiences for students with disabilities.
Inclusion in Special Education
In the past few decades, there has been a movement toward inclusion — which involves integrating special education students in general education classrooms where possible and appropriate. In 2019, almost 65% of students aged 6 through 21 who received special education services spent 80% or more of their school day in general classrooms, up from less than 32% in 1989.
Proponents of inclusion point to studies showing that students with disabilities who learn alongside their non-disabled peers improve academic achievement, confidence and social skills. They also assert that non-disabled students may benefit from learning alongside students who are different from themselves. Still, inclusion is not a universal strategy. For example, critics point out that students with disabilities may be overlooked in a normal classroom or may exhibit distracting and disrupting behaviors to the other students in the class. Thus, to achieve the right balance, individual education programs (IEPs) are critical.
Individual Education Programs
The U.S. Department of Education calls IEPs the "cornerstone of a quality education for each child with a disability." Under the IDEA, an IEP must be truly individualized and designed to ensure one particular student's success.
Multiple people — including teachers, parents and other staff — should be involved in creating an IEP that considers a particular students' disabilities and capabilities. The goal is for the student to progress and thrive, as much as possible, with the general curriculum appropriate to their age level. Once an IEP is written and agreed to, those stakeholders maintain copies to ensure that the student receives "accommodations, modifications, and supports" as they are specified in the plan.
Per the U.S. Department of Education, IEPs "must always consider the child's need for assistive technology devices or services." Assistive technology is a broad term that encompasses any tools or software that aid a student with disabilities in learning, communication or mobility. It could take the form of augmented or virtual reality, alternative keyboards, motorized wheelchairs, text-to-speech devices and flexible furniture.
The goal of inclusive technology is to allow students with disabilities to participate more fully in the classroom and engage more deeply with the general curriculum. Adaptive technology is a tool of learning independence for these students. Special education teachers should understand adaptive technology and how it fits into each student's IEP and learning goals.
With IEPs, adaptive technology and other critical topics related to success for students with disabilities, teachers with LBD certification are prepared to meet each learner's unique needs and celebrate each learner's achievements.
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