A network to share best practices for children with special needs
“Nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals”. I love this quote by Thomas Jefferson! It is especially appropriate when referring to accommodations for students with a learning disability. The quality of support children receive in school is crucial to their academic success. Collaboration between general and special educators is the key to guaranteeing all children receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment.
However, even though three million school-age children are classified as having specific learning disabilities (LD), this category of special needs is often misunderstood.
• The term specific learning disability refers to one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written, and affects a person’s ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
• LD does not include problems primarily due to visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, although students with such diagnoses can also have learning disabilities.
• LD does not include problems that result primarily from mental retardation or emotional disturbance, although, again, children who experience such difficulties can also have learning disabilities.
• LD does not include problems that result primarily from cultural, environmental, or economic disadvantage.
• Learning disabilities are real! Although they often aren’t observed until a child is doing school-related tasks, a proven biological basis for LD exists, including emerging data that document genetic links for LD within families.
• LD is common, affecting an estimated four percent to six percent of the public school population. And if you include individuals who, for a number of reasons, struggle with reading, the numbers are considerably higher.
(Taken from ncld.org)
Can students who have a learning disability achieve success? Unequivocally, YES! Many celebrities and famous people have achieved greatness because of their learning disability. (See the link below for a list of famous people with a learning disability).
Famous People With Learning Disabilities
Today, we are going to discuss the importance of appropriate, tailored classroom accommodations which help students overcome or compensate for LD-related struggles.
As a former Director of Exceptional Children in a school district, allow me to share a conversation that I often had at IEP meetings:
SETTING: School conference room; The IEP Team (teachers, parents, administrators) all gathered around the table.
ME: Based on the reported and substantiated difficulties in ______, what accommodations does the child need in the classroom?
RESOURCE TEACHER: Small group setting, extended time, calculator
REGULAR TEACHER: How do I explain this child being allowed to use a calculator to my other students when they cannot use one?!
SILENCE AROUND THE TABLE
ME: I understand. We never want any child to feel that they are being treated unequally. (If the teacher or someone at the table wore glasses, I would say), Would you take off your glasses for the remainder of the meeting?
TEACHER (with a puzzled look) I cannot see without my glasses.
ME: Hmmm….but I do not wear glasses.
TEACHER: But you do not need glasses to see, I do.
ME: My point exactly. Your glasses do not make you any smarter or give you an unfair advantage over me. You need your glasses to see what I see without glasses. Your glasses make us see equally.
That is the purpose of accommodations. Your other students do not need a calculator (or whatever the accommodation being discussed); this child does. It does not give him/her an unfair advantage. It allows him/her to appropriately process the same information and perform at the same level as classmates.
TEACHER: (having an Ah-ha moment): When explained that way, I understand.
For years, I taught a graduate course, “Teaching the Special Needs Student in the Regular Classroom”. The class was always full of regular classroom teachers who were anxious to learn about effective strategies to implement when teaching students with special needs….specifically, learning disabilities. Believe it or not, most colleges do not offer a course in special needs for undergraduate students! So, most teachers have never been trained in accommodations, effective strategies, etc. for children with special needs. The first class in the course focused on understanding some of the frustrations that children with special needs experience, and how that often leads to inappropriate behaviors. I designed specific simulations in which the teachers participated. As a result, some teachers crumpled their paper and threw it on the floor, broke pencils, and exhibited other behaviors that signal frustration. Those simulations allowed empathy to develop. Teachers became passionate about specific, effective accommodations for students with special needs.
Accommodations must be tailored to your child’s specific needs. Unfortunately, classroom accommodations have often become “one size fits all”. A few of the accommodations that have become one-size fits all:
• extended time on tests
• small group setting
• oral directions
• shorten assignments
(NOTE: To see an extensive list of available school accommodations, access the following link:
List of School Accommodations
While these accommodations are widely used, they are not child-specific enough. For example, “Extended time”…..to do what?…complete the test? If the child’s basic accommodation needs are not met, all day and night will not be enough time. What other accommodations will be afforded during this extended time? The effectiveness of all accommodations should be constantly monitored and changes (with involvement of students, parents and educators) should be made as often as necessary. The key is to be sure that chosen accommodations address students' specific areas of need and enable the student to demonstrate his/her skill and knowledge.
I would love to hear from you. Tell me what accommodations your child is being afforded, and how they have been tailored to specific learning needs. In my next blog, we will discuss many more specific, tailored classroom accommodations. Until then, remember: “ Nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals”. (Thomas Jefferson)