ERIC Identifier: ED317007
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children
Educating Exceptional Children. ERIC Digest #E456.
They are the more than 4.5 million children and youth in this country who
have physical, mental, or behavioral handicaps. Ranging in age from birth
to 21, these children and youth with exceptionalities require the assistance
of special educators in order to benefit from education. A dynamic concept
of exceptionality encompasses all children who need a specially tailored
education program to achieve in accordance with their potential.
In 1975 the U.S. Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children
Act, which guarantees a free and appropriate public education to all children
in the United States between the ages of 3 and 21. The law provides funds
for special education programs to states and local districts that comply
with a set of regulations. These regulations mandate provision of special
education services including an individualized educational program to be
carried out in the least restrictive environment, a comprehensive diagnosis
of each child's disabilities by a qualified professional team, an annual
review of each child's progress, and the involvement of parents in educational
decisions. Amendments to the law, P.L. 98-199 and P.L. 99-457, also require
that the local school districts actively search for and provide services
to children between the ages of 3 and 5 who have disabilities.States are
also required to develop systems to provide early intervention services
for infants from birth to age 3 who are developmentally delayed or at risk
of becoming developmentally delayed.
PROGRAMS FOR GIFTED STUDENTS
Although an increasing number of programs is available to meet the needs
of students with special gifts and talents, the education of these students
is still largely ignored. Approximately half the states now mandate some
form of special services for these students. Gifts and talents may be in
academic, intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership abilities. In
addition to the traditional practice of allowing academically talented
students to skip grades, the educational needs of gifted and talented students
may be served by the provision of enrichment experiences, instructional
grouping by intellectual ability rather than by chronological age, and,
to a lesser extent, counseling to support the development of personal and
PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH PHYSICAL HANDICAPS
About 1% of the preschool- and school-aged children in the United States
have physical handicaps. These handicaps include blindness and visual impairments,
deafness and hearing impairments, and orthopedic disabilities. Depending
on the degree of the disability and on individual characteristics, these
children may be educated in residential schools, separate classes, or regular
classes with support services provided by special teachers.For children
who are blind, instruction in braille and mobility is required. Children
with visual impairments need materials such as large-type books, special
typewriters, and proper lighting. Children who are deaf require language
instruction that often combines signing, lip-reading, intensive work in
speech production, and amplified aural training. Children with orthopedic
handicaps may need the services of a speech pathologist, physical or occupational
therapist, psychologist, or social worker. They may also require modifications
in their surroundings such as wide doorways to accommodate wheelchairs,
toilets at appropriate heights, and ramps or elevators.
PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH MENTAL HANDICAPS
Slightly less than 2% of the preschool- and school-aged children in the
United States are classified as mentally handicapped. Children with severe
mental handicaps often have multiple disabilities. A variety of educational
options are available for these children including residential schools,
special day schools, separate classes, and regular classes with special
education support services. The appropriate option for each child depends
on the child's characteristics and individual abilities.
PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH BEHAVIOR DISORDERS
Children with emotional disorders constitute about 1% of the preschool-
and school-aged population. These children may be withdrawn or overly aggressive.
Their education is usually provided in regular or special classes with
support services provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers,
and speech-language pathologists.
PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH SPEECH AND LANGUAGE DISABILITIES
Nearly 3% of the preschool- and school-aged population have speech or language
impairments, including problems in articulation, language, fluency, or
voice, that affect their ability to learn or communicate effectively with
others. The educational treatment provided to these children depends on
the severity of the impairment and may include the services of special
education teachers and speech/language pathologists.
PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES
The largest group of exceptional children, slightly less than 5% of the
population, have learning disabilities. There is a discrepancy between
their measured ability to learn and their actual achievement that is not
due to intellectual retardation, emotional disorder, or sensory impairment.
Intelligence scores for children with learning disabilities range from
average to gifted levels. These children may be educated in self-contained
classes if their problems are severe, but more often they remain in regular
classes with the support of special educators.
SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIALIZED HEALTH CARE NEEDS
Specialized health care needs is a relatively new term applied to a group
of students who previously were unserved in educational settings. Although
these students are often considered similar to students with other health
impairments, their educational needs are complicated by extreme medical
needs. Other terms sometimes used are medically fragile and technologically
dependent. Many of these students have survived catastrophic medical events
that require intensive and prolonged health care.Because classification
of this group of students does not exist in educational databases, estimation
of numbers is difficult. However, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)
has estimated that as many as 100,000 infants and children may be technologically
dependent in some way. OTA defines this group as requiring a medical device
to compensate for the loss of a vital body function and substantial and
ongoing nursing care to avert further disability or death.
TRENDS IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
Two trends are apparent in special education today. First, children with
disabilities are receiving special education services earlier. This trend
reflects the recognition that a child's ability to learn in school depends
on skills learned as a toddler, such as communicating with others or exploring
the environment. Since disabilities can delay the acquisition of these
skills, early special education is needed to provide a foundation for future
learning. To identify these young children and treat their disabilities,
special educators are working closely with hospitals, medical personnel,
therapists, and social workers. Family services are being provided to help
parents understand their child's disability and its treatment, and preschool
education is being provided in homes and in preschool education centers.
For many children, early educational treatment of handicapping conditions
can reduce or eliminate the need for intensive special services later.Young
gifted children are also receiving more attention. It is not uncommon to
find such children experiencing a vast gap between their advanced intellectual
skills and their less advanced physical and emotional competencies. Understanding
the unique developmental patterns that are often present in gifted children
can help parents and teachers adjust their expectations of academic performance
to a more realistic level. Young gifted children who find that their limited
physical skills are not sufficiently developed to carry out the complex
projects they imagined must be helped to develop coping skills to deal
with their frustrations.
The second trend is a change in the public's attitude toward employment
of people with handicaps. Today it is recognized that valuable contributions
may be made even by people with severe handicaps. Schools are assessing
the abilities and talents of students with handicaps and matching them
with potential occupations. More instruction in vocational skills is being
provided to students with handicaps, and programs are being offered to
assist them in the transition from school to community life and work.
Emphasis on serving the needs of exceptional children is likely to continue,
and the information derived from current research will improve special
educational services even more in the future.
Jordan, J. B. (1988). 1988 special education yearbook. Reston, VA: The
Council for Exceptional Children.Eleventh annual report to Congress on
the implementation of the Education of the Handicapped Act. (1989). Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Handicapped and at-risk children. An Infopacket of 15 ERIC Digests (1982-1989).
Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.