New Developments For Special Educators And Students With Disabilities

New Developments For Special Educators And Students With Disabilities

An increasing number of students require specialized health care procedures during school hours. Procedures such as tube feedings, clean intermittent catheterization, suctioning, and ventilator management are becoming more commonplace in the school setting. Who performs the procedures and is responsible for them being correctly implemented varies across school districts and states. Although consensus can be difficult to reach regarding other critical areas surrounding specialized health care procedures. Two critical areas have been identified and are as follows:


First and foremost, all teachers need to maintain a safe, healthy environment for their students in collaboration with others in the school. This includes learning about their students’ specific physical and/or health impairments, physical health care procedures, and treatment regime. A teacher should know the major problems and emergencies that could arise with each student. There should be a plan in place to know how to respond should a problem occur. Teachers should also know general safety skills such as universal precautions, general first aid, and CPR.

Second, specialized health care procedures should be viewed as independent living skills, which students should be taught. Specialized health care procedures and other health management skills should be considered for goals and objectives. These objectives could target independent performance, partial participation, directing someone else in performance, or knowledge of the task. It is the educational team’s responsibility to consider how students can participate in their own self-care.


The plan for and establishment of instruction in the area of self-management skill development must include input from appropriate health care specialists, such as nurses, OTs, and PTs. Teachers of students with physical and health disabilities are responsible for providing expertise in the area of instructional strategies and adaptations to promote student learning of these procedures. Even when health care personnel are responsible for performing these procedures, teachers must work closely with them, providing appropriate instructional strategies, error analysis, and correction procedures.


Society can steal the dreams of people with disabilities. It defines what people with disabilities are capable of, provides ready-made programs instead of letting these individuals choose their own path; holds low expectations for their achievement, giving praise for mediocre performance instead of expecting the best; and limits their experiences under the guise of protection or safety.


Dreams are the essence of a free society, the privilege to dream and the freedom to make that dream come true. This is true for all people.




Preventing violence and discipline problems in our schools calls for comprehensive, school-wide programs, specialized interventions for students who need additional help, and educators who make an effort to connect with each of their students. Specific guidelines follow.


Instituting School-wide Behavioral Supports


–    Develop a team-based approach to using and evaluating best practices. The teams should include an administrator, grade level or department representation, individuals with expertise on behavioral strategies and issues such as psychologists and other support staff, and a parent. The administrator must actively support the staff by providing budget, additional staff, and resources.


–    Adapt and sustain research-validated practices


–    Make behavioral instruction proactive. Educators should give direct instruction in appropriate social behavior, model appropriate the behavior, give students opportunities to practice the behavior and become fluent at it, and give positive feedback.


–    Provide a continuum of instructional behavior support. The intensity of intervention must increase as the intensity of problem behavior increases. Schools can’t throw simple solutions against complex problems, such as using parent volunteers to manage students who are chronic behavior challenges. Schools should use individuals who know the strategies to address those problems.


–    Use data-systems to guide decision making. These systems should inform staff as to what is currently in place, as well as what is and is not working. The data should be applied to the school’s goals for its students.


The Surprise Killers


We learn about students who have a hidden potential for violence and suicide and we stressed the need for educators to be aware of “quiet,” anti-social students who suddenly erupt, killing themselves and/or others.


These unidentified students have often experienced a high degree of rejection. They become such non-entities, their teachers and peers, and even family members, do not know them. To fend off their alienation, they may join a deviant peer group such as the “trench coat mafia” referred to in the Columbine High School deaths.


To help such students we recommend that educators make it a point to support the rejected student and establish credibility with him or her. Strategies to do so include greeting each student respectfully; treating each student with respect and dignity even when there is a classroom disturbance; and providing relevant instructional materials that is age appropriate, well-paced, and at an appropriate academic level.

Educators should pay attention to any feelings of unease they may experience with a student. In such instances, the educator should refer the student for evaluation and seek help from other professionals.




States have been struggling to enact the mandate that they must include and report the scores of students with disabilities in state- and district-wide assessments. While only some states know how many students with special needs are included in broad-based assessments, others have the information but lag behind in analyzing it. However, with the data available, we know that the number of students included in assessments vary greatly, ranging from one state that includes all students with disabilities to a state that includes only 14% of such students in assessments. States also report differences in how the scores for students with disabilities are used. Most use the scores for state-wide policy decisions and to target low-performing schools for additional funding. They are also used to guide decisions about curriculum or instruction, general school reforms, and individual student issues, such as graduation or promotion.


One assessment quandary special educators are trying to navigate is high stakes testing. Currently, some states use exit exams, which students must pass to graduate, and many more are planning to institute such exams. While some special educators fear students with disabilities will fail exit exams and be unable to graduate, others warn that high stakes testing can be used as an excuse to exclude students with special needs from state-wide assessments. In addition, such tests may exacerbate the drop-out rate of students with disabilities.


Special educators are also worried that their students will be unable to meet state standards. However, if teachers and parents expect students with disabilities to live and work in their communities, we must be sure they have the skills and knowledge to do so. The key is to ensure our students get the resources they need to master the required subject matter. Another problem is that states and legislatures are looking to high stakes testing as a means to enact negative consequences for teachers and schools. Punishment is not an effective way to change behavior.


Overuse of accommodations is also a concern. Special educators may over-accommodate on state-wide assessments, thinking the accommodations “can’t hurt.” However, providing accommodations that aren’t needed are antithetical to independence. Furthermore, students may not receive accommodations in the workplace, and those who don’t need them shouldn’t grow dependent on them.


Effective Treatments for ADHD


In general, a combined therapy using medication and behavior therapy or medication alone outperforms behavioral therapy in treating ADHD, but one must look at the child’s characteristics to determine the best type of therapy for ADHD. The results of a national study comparing various treatments for ADHD are:


–    For children with anxiety and ADHD, a combined therapy worked best.


–  For children with aggressive/oppositional behavior and ADHD, a combined therapy or medication worked better than behavior therapy alone.


–    For children with ADHD or conduct disorder, behavior therapy only showed no gains.


Though the study shows that medication is effective for children with ADHD, many parents and educators are still reluctant to use it. As a result, children may receive lower dosages than they need to suppress their symptoms. Placing children on Ritalin or other medication for ADHD may lead to substance abuse.


Children get into substance abuse through delinquency. With proper medication, kids make it in the real world. To determine the best treatment for a child with ADHD, one must consider all factors, such as whether the child has anxiety or if there are circumstances occurring in the home that may affect the child. Each child with ADHD must receive an intensive evaluation and frequent monitoring to ensure the most appropriate treatment.




While we have made great strides in learning how to teach children to read, the battle is far from over. Researchers have identified methods that help the majority of young children learn to read, but we do not know how to prevent reading difficulties in all children. Another major problem is that we still do not know how to help non-readers master this essential skill once they have progressed beyond the third grade. This is problematic, for it is at the fourth grade that reading moves to expository writing, which gives students the information they need to master content. Non-readers also lose essential vocabulary acquisition, which is often correlated with intelligence.


To help ensure young students learn to read, schools must take a proactive approach, recommended reading experts. First, they must consistently deliver quality reading instruction in kindergarten through second grade. Torgesen recommends using phonemically explicit instructional approaches, as they have the strongest impact on reading growth. Second, schools must provide more intensive, explicit, and supportive instruction for children who are at risk of reading difficulty. Third, schools should employ an assessment system that gives educators feedback on each child’s mastery of the basic reading skills, such as alphabetic understanding, phonological awareness, and fluency, on a weekly or monthly basis. We can’t wait until the end of the year to decide if kids are making progress.


Providing Access to the General Education Curriculum


Giving students with disabilities access to the general education curriculum entails major shifts in the way teachers approach instruction. First, both general and special education teachers need to be able to communicate and work effectively with other professionals. Second, they must share decision-making on assessment and instruction. And third, they must employ more flexible teaching approaches, including who will teach what, where the instruction will occur, and how the students will be grouped both in and out of class.


Educators may also need to base instructional units on the content their students should master. This structure will influence the way teachers group children and gather feedback, as well as the instructional approaches they will use.


Finally, educators must monitor students’ progress in the general education curriculum. Continuous flat profiles in critical target areas is not acceptable.




Educators should provide a continuum of accommodations that allow students with disabilities to access the general education curriculum. While accommodations involve changing the way content is delivered, sequencing of material, or timelines for mastery, they still allow students to work toward the content established in state standards.

Special educators should be leery of making modifications, which change the knowledge and skills a student is expected to master. When making even simple modifications, we can take him or her “out of the loop” for success on state – and district-wide assessments.


Special Education Law and You


–    Evaluations: Decisions concerning a child’s disability and educational program must be based on a number of assessments, including informal teacher assessments and observations, as well as input from parents. Educators should also be able to articulate the educational basis or rationale for a decision.


–    Educational Methodology: The courts have stated that they will not resolve disputes on educational methods. The courts recognize that there are many different ways to teach a child with a disability.


–    The emphasis on students with disabilities participating in the general education curriculum should not result in major expansions or in detailed goals, benchmarks, or objectives in every content area. The new focus should result in attention to accommodations that allow students to participate in the general education curriculum.




–    Manifestation Determination — A school can decide a child’s behavior was not a manifestation of the child’s disability and the child’s disability did not impair his or her ability to understand the impact, consequences, and ability to control behavior. To show that a child understands the impact and consequences of his or her actions, educators can use anecdotal stories of their daily interactions with the child.


While the school cannot decide whether or not the student’s behavior was a manifestation of his or her disability without the parents’ presence, the school can meet to discuss the issue. In fact, it’s often a good idea to give staff a time to vent behind closed doors.


–    Behavioral Assessments — A behavioral assessment would not require parental consent if it is a review of existing data. If the behavioral assessment involves formal evaluations or psychological or other assessments and procedures, the school should get parental consent.


–    Continuing Educational Services — If a child is removed from the educational environment for more than 10 days, school personnel and the special education teacher determine what services the child will receive. That could mean that homework would be sent home.


–    Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) — LRE is being applied to pre-school children, and districts must ensure that a continuum of services is provided to this population. LRE is also being considered for the extended school year, which is based on the child’s potential for regression, the rate of recoupment, or other factors such as the child being on the brink of a breakthrough in his or her basic skill area.


Crises in the Classroom


In today’s turbulent climate, more of our students will experience crisis than ever before, and as educators we are called upon to help them through these difficult times in their lives.


Special education teachers often play a crucial role with their students who are in crisis. Some students with special needs may be particularly at risk when they experience crisis, and special educators need to know how to help them get the support they need, as well as how to work with them in the classroom. Because of the close ties special education teachers often develop with their students, the special educator may be a student’s first confidant when crisis hits. As a result, the special educator needs to know how to help her or his students educationally and emotionally and, if necessary, get additional support.


Though most special educators have received little or no formal training in working with students in crisis, many have developed communication and problem-solving skills that help their students cope with difficult times.


However, teachers can only go so far. For schools to effectively help their students in crisis, they must have a crisis action plan that addresses a continuum of situations, from personal issues such as divorce or death to disasters such as fires and earthquakes. They also need crisis intervention teams that can respond immediately to different situations. The most effective plans include community agencies as well as school resources to provide services for students.


Special Education Students At-Risk


Some students with special needs, particularly those with learning disabilities or emotional disturbance, are at-risk during crises. These students, who may have difficulty knowing how to get what they need under normal circumstances, may struggle more than others when dealing with crisis. Likewise, students who do not have a good sense of logic and consequences or who do not read social clues well will suffer more in crisis situations. Such students can feel a total loss of control and respond to the situation from a totally emotional base rather than a rational or intellectual model.


Some students with learning disabilities are also more susceptible to joining a gang, where they gain a sense of belonging they do not find in the classroom.


Also, students from diverse backgrounds may suffer more during times of crisis because their poor English skills keep them from expressing their experiences and/or feelings, or they do not have a support group to help them through the crisis.


The Special Educator’s Role


The special education teacher’s role can become very complex when he or she has students in crisis. The special educator may function as a counselor as well as a teacher during difficult times, and in some areas that do not have extensive resources, may be called upon to act as the mental health professional when no one else is available.


Many special education folks are so caring and concerned, they are very good at dealing with crises in people’s lives.


Most special educators agree that crisis in the classroom must be addressed. When a crisis occurs that affects a majority of their students, many special educators reserve class time to talk about the crisis, how it makes everyone feel, and how students can handle it. We must set aside class time and process the situation as a class.


If the crisis is a natural disaster such as an earthquake, some educators develop lesson plans to help students understand what has happened. Any teacher in disaster preparedness can develop some simple lessons students with special needs can understand.


Other teachers develop writing or drawing activities to help students express their feelings about the crisis, or they may have students read a book that deals with a particular issue so the students know they are not alone in their experience.


Addressing a group crisis as a class can be a straightforward decision, but the situation can become more complicated when crisis affects a single individual. Many times, a student will reveal a personal trauma in the middle of class, and the teacher must determine on the spot the most appropriate action to take. He or she must meet the individual student’s needs, as well as those of the rest of the class, and safeguard the student’s privacy.


Depending on the topic, when a single student brings up an issue in class, many special education teachers will take some time to talk with the student, and possibly, include the class in a discussion of the feelings that arise from the event. Others try to talk to the student alone by assigning the other students individual work, sending the class to another educator so the teacher can talk to the student privately, or meeting with the student at another time.


Special educators also help students who are in crisis by temporarily cutting back on their expectations for the student. They may extend deadlines, give smaller assignments, or make other adjustments in workloads. However, it is important to try to keep the student engaged in school so that he or she is not too distracted by grieving.


Special educators further help their students in crises by being on the lookout for any changes in behavior or lack of progress that signal the need for professional help. Teachers can keep a journal stating what has occurred, the progress the student is making, and the teacher’s interventions (met with the parents, sent the student to a counselor, confidentially informed staff of the situation).


Getting Support for Students in Crisis


Special educators can be a great help to their students by being their friend, showing they care, and engaging in active listening when their students are in crisis. But some students require more help than teachers have been trained to provide. When an educator sees that a student is not improving over time, observes changes in behavior, or is faced with a situation in which a student may be hurt or could hurt others, he or she should get assistance immediately. Resources include counselors, school psychologists, school nurses (many of whom are trained in mental illness), and community agencies.


The classroom teacher needs to walk a fine line between taking on what maybe is the job of the psychologist, particularly with a student who has emotional issues.


Special educators recommend working closely with a student’s parents when a crisis occurs. Special education teachers can share their observations with parents, offer to send them forms or other information they might need, and give them ideas for resources in the community and at school. If an entire family is in crisis, the teacher’s input can help parents focus on the needs of the child.


Teachers also face times in which students do not want their parents to know about their situation or the student may be the victim of parental abuse. However, the teacher may be held responsible if she or he did not report a confidence and the student is harmed or harms another. Furthermore, teachers are required by law to report any suspicion of abuse to the authorities. In these difficult situations, teachers can talk with the student to determine who should be told of the problem and help develop plans to protect the individual. Teacher can say something like, “This is a really big problem, and you are very upset. Someone else has to be told. Help me decide who will be that person. I’ll stay with you, and we’ll talk until you help me decide. I understand you don’t want me to tell your mom or dad, but I’ve got to tell somebody.”


One of the most frustrating things teachers encounter when working with students in crisis is that they do not have the power or authority to get resources working for a child. Despite that fact, teachers need to know who can do what and where and how to get the student the services he or she needs.


School-Wide Interventions


In the face of the escalating violence students experience, more and more schools are developing crisis intervention strategies. Many schools have school crisis teams, involving psychologists, counselors, nurses, administrators, and peer mediators, that teachers can call on when a student or students are in crisis. When a crisis affects a large portion of the school population, experts from other schools, other districts, or the community may be called on to assist.


Experts stress that teachers and staff should be told what the actual extent of the problem is and how to discuss the crisis so that everyone tells the same story and rumors are dispelled. Students who are involved need to have access to phones so they can contact their families. In addition, when a school-wide crisis occurs, a room needs to be set up where students can go when they feel particularly grief-stricken, uncertain, or confused.


Some schools also hold discussion groups for students who are dealing with the same type of crisis. Different groups address specific topics such as drugs, grief, girls’ issues, gangs, etc. Crisis seems to have made itself a chronic guest in our classrooms. Therefore, teachers can expect to spend more of their time helping students through crisis. It is a role for which we have received little preparation, but one we need to master if we are to help our students succeed in their world.


In summary, teachers have a responsibility to develop knowledge and skills regarding their students’ health care needs. Maintaining a safe, healthy environment and viewing their students’ specialized health care needs as potential educational targets requiring the teacher’s expertise in instruction are two issues that require more attention and commitment.


Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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