As it is human nature, people have judged a book by its cover. It is a grave mistake, and we have, time and again, failed over this habit. Like Special needs persons, the society has underestimated the community’s favorite course of study- Special Education. A significant number of people outside of the Disability Community, when you tell them about the course that you have studied, they would look at you with confusion and disdain and wonder what on earth you are talking about. However, if at all they know about the course, they would ask why you had gone to read “something like that.” Weren’t there other “cooler courses?”
Well, there’s never been anything, any course of study so significant, so humane, and so practical and down-to-earth like Special Education. This isn’t so because I’m a Special needs person with Special needs Degrees from Special needs schools in the line of Special needs career, plying my trade at the world’s premier Special needs university. No. I have said that Special Education is one of the truly most significant courses not because of my status. I have believed in the uniqueness of Special Education because of the many incredible roles it has been playing in not only making education a possibility for all and sundry regardless of your mental, physiological and psychosocial challenges, but as well as in alleviating human suffering and making the planet a much healthier place for all of us.
This writer is, by all means, a Special needs teacher and practitioner and has a sense he is well qualified to present insightful writing that can propagate Special Education outside of the confines of the Disability Community into the environments of the much larger social and beyond. It is my greatest pleasure to talk about the concepts and practice of Special Education, its enormous benefits, and possible careers, as well as the remarkable joy it provides to both its students and its practitioners. As part of my mental preparedness for this work, I thought about a couple maxims. I would want you to consider them too as we go along.
“CHILDREN HAVE DIFFERENT ABILITIES LEVELS IN DIFFERENT AREAS”
President John F. Kennedy once said: “Not every child has an equal talent or equal ability or equal motivation, but they should have equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation.”
Fantastic! JFK was right. But how did the President know and understand variations in the abilities, talents and learning pace in children? He had lived it. As a brother to a sister with mental retardation, President John F. Kennedy appointed Samuel Kirk, the pioneer and father of the field of Special Education to a post in his administration.
Now, imagine that you walk into a classroom full of schoolchildren. You haven’t begun to communicate yet on why you think the Earth is round. Common observation shows you that some of these kids are tall and skinny; some are short and stocky, while you observe that a lot of them fall somewhere in-between that’s just physical differences.
Further along, as you bring forth words out of your mouth- word after word about the planet and all its glory, while also at the same time receiving feedback from the children, another subtle observation hits you. It reveals that there are significant differences in these learners- in the areas of intelligence, emotional maturity, and social development. As a great teacher, you want to make sure that everyone is carried along, which is a good thing.
But further down, you develop a greater sense that these schoolchildren are different than one another in a lot of respects, including learning characteristics and pace, physical make-up, and sensory perception and achievement levels. These children differ from average/normal children either because they possess some pretty special abilities or them, unfortunately, obvious unusual limitations in their sense of hearing or sight, in their sense of breathing or cognition hence they require special attention from you. What are you going to do to help them, to carry them along like you have wanted, and how are you going to do it? Well, these are the children and youths for which Special Education considers and caters for. Special Education is merely an instruction for children with Special needs.
But Special Education isn’t just about the education of individuals with disabilities. Special education is also about the rehabilitation of learners and individuals with various disabilities so that people can live emotionally-healthier lives.
GENERAL EDUCATION AND SPECIAL EDUCATION
However, the differences between Special Education and public education are pretty massive. Our world isn’t made of one kind of thing or people. Our world is complex and multivariate, with diversities of people and personal characteristics. Unknown to General Education Teachers and its students, including the non-disabled community, there are always going to be anomalies- people and learners who aren’t just like everyone, learners, and individuals who do not apparently act or write or read like everyone and that’s OK. General Education teaches general learners with no disabilities or apparent irregularities; Special Education identifies “challenged learners,” sees them as unique individuals with unique educational needs, and bring in unique tools and unique strategies in giving them an education. In Special Education, there is an appreciation of individual differences- in the brain, in looks, in talents, in strengths, in weaknesses, and in physical/emotional characteristics but it is only befitting that there are provisions in place for exceptional learners.
KINDS OF SPECIAL NEEDS
There are hundreds of Special needs. For the scope of this essay, we will identify and briefly discuss the most common exceptionalities. I have classed them under sensory impaired, physical disability, developmental disability, behavioral/emotional disorder.
• Sensory Impaired - Blind, visually impaired, Deaf and hard of hearing, and communication disorder
• Physical Disability - muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, chronic asthma, epilepsy
• Learning Disability - dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, processing disorder
• Developmental Disability - intellectual disability, down syndrome, autism, behavioral/emotional disorder- ADD, bi-polar, other emotional disorder.
· Visual impairment (Blindness)
Individuals with visual impairment experience inability to see objects and persons. Causes of poor visual acuity may be due to diseases, viral infections, genetics, and environmental factors.
· Hearing Impairment (Deafness)
Individuals with hearing impairment experience inability to hear speech or sounds. Hearing impairment may be mild, average, moderate, profound or severe. It varies from individual to individual. Also, there are pre-lingual Deafness and post-lingual Deafness. The former had occurred before a person acquired language. The latter has happened after a person has learned and acquired language.
· Intellectual Disabilities (Retards)
People with intellectual disabilities have substantial limitations in intellectual functioning with sub-average intelligence and poor adaptive social skills. In the past, people called them retards or imbeciles. These terms are not right.
· Communication Disorder
Individuals with communication disorder experience inability to receive, send process and understand concepts of verbal, non-verbal, and graphic symbols of a system.
· Learning Disabilities
There are a great number of children and learners with normal cognitive functioning but yet are unable to learn well. Individuals with specific learning disability often have problems with one or a combination of the following: reading, writing, drawing, spelling, and computing (mathematics)
· Physical Disabilities
These include individuals with physical challenges- within capacities to use one or two of their limbs or other essential bodily organs. Common physical disabilities include muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis.
· Behavioural/Emotional Disorder
These are individuals with attention deficit disorders, chronic restlessness, emotional troubles such as bipolar disorders. These individuals are often testy and are highly behaviorally unpredictable.
A hard look at those identified Special needs would give an impression that it is impossible to not have as many as learners and individuals with one or two kinds of disabilities. Anyone can be disabled at any point in time. But in fact, no one is infinitely abled. Disability is a part of the human condition, and almost anyone- regardless of position or status can fall into any of those listed categories. However, they would deserve as much right as others in the getting an education that accommodates their condition or uniqueness. And well, somebody- a particular course or teacher has to prepare persons for providing this education.
CAREERS IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
Apart from being a Special Education teacher that helps learners with disabilities to learn, there are some exciting careers that graduates of Special Education can launch into. The good news is that the society will always be in search of these professionals- in a wide variety of settings o matter the economic or political climate.
1. Clinical Psychologist: This focuses on diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Some of the more common disorders that you might address include learning disabilities, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
2. Therapist: A therapist (psychotherapist) is a certified mental health professional who helps people improve their lives, develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce symptoms of mental illness and cope with various problems.
3. Educational Counselor: This is a counselor who works with school students in a school environment. As an educational counselor, you will assist Special needs children with their studies, provide career counseling, based upon the options available to students and you are also going to help with their personal issues because they will somehow interfere with their studies.
4. Social worker: The National Association of Social Workers define the profession as one seeks to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” You will address personal and social problems. However, I must tell you, this is an extraordinary profession. It is the hardest, most dangerous profession beyond the police work. You work with a wide variety of people. Still, it is the most beautiful work in the Universe. You will make very significant and sweet impacts.
5. Educational Audiologists: Depending on your specialist subject during your study, you, as an educational audiologist will conduct audiological evaluations for students with hearing problems. You will determine the extent of hearing problems of learners and workers, and recommend appropriate intervention activities.
6. Interpreter for the Deaf (if you are hearing): A Special Education degree can prepare for an interpreting service for the Deaf. Interpreting with sign language has become a favorite profession.
7. Occupational Therapist: an occupational therapist makes use of assessment and intervention to work with individuals who have trouble adjusting or functioning on a job, or occupation. It is an allied health profession.
Humanly saying, Special Education is an extraordinary discipline. We can see a more full scope of the role of Special Education in its professional capacity to work efficiently with members of the community and the government in addressing personal and social problems- in schools and beyond. But in fact, the course is multidisciplinary, multivariate and multidimensional- requiring a generalist perspective, evidence-based programs, as well as a whole lot of soft skills such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence, cultural competence, critical-thinking abilities, empathy as well as useful communication/sign language skills.
There is not yet another discipline where the most significant difference can be made other than Special Education. It accommodates and respects conditions and cultures. It rehabilitates and alleviates human suffering so that our resources and opportunities may be improved by getting a unique education that provides our individual differences.
But these special instructions are provided to Special needs persons, in a unique setting, with special tools and special methodologies in order that the less than perfect individuals- the persons with inability to hear, see, learn, write, think, walk, to relate, like every other normal one, may get an education that’s just right for them so that they may realize their full potentials.
For that, the idea of Special Education endures.