Special Education and Inclusion: Characteristic on Moderate Disabilities
The inclusion of special needs students in a standard classroom continues to be a topic of debate among educators that covers an array of issues including academic, social, emotional, medical, and economic concerns. Opinions range greatly; however, at the heart of debate lies the question, which parents and educators on all sides attempt to answer, is "what is best for the child?" One approach is the inclusion of children with mild disabilities into standard classrooms. This paper shall give a brief overview of the meaning of inclusion, and present characteristics and classroom strategies for the inclusion of a child who is hard-of-hearing in a standard classroom.
A discussion on inclusion would be benefited by clarifying two common terms that mark distinct approaches in special education. These terms are 'integration' and 'inclusion.' The concept of integration implies that a special needs student's first placement should be in a special education program and considers a move to a general classroom setting as a result of the student's progress in demonstrating his ability to 'keep-up' with regular academic work and schedule. This process "does not imply a restructuring of the educational environment to accommodate the needs" of the special needs students (Thomas, 1997). The emphases, therefore, is placed more on the needs of the regular class room so the least amount of disruptions will occur. The concept of inclusion, on the other hand, supposes that a child's first placement should be in a general classroom and expects restructuring of the educational environment to accommodate a child with special needs. This approach puts more emphases on the needs of the child and inquiries the school's ability to provide support services to the child to the extent that the child will benefit. Consequently, there is no expectation that the child will keep-up with his peers.
Inclusion, understandably, has its limits due to the range of physical, mental, emotional, and psychological disabilities. However, mild or moderate disabilities can be accommodated in a general classroom to the benefit of all in the school community. For example, schools can include children who are hard-of-hearing with a reasonable amount of resources. The following discussion shall cover some benefits, challenges, and strategies that such an inclusion would entail.
As an individualized education program (IEP) is developed both the student and the learning environment need evaluation. Evidently, the primary area of concern for the inclusion of a hard of hearing student into a standard classroom is one of communication and language. What extent of hearing loss did the student experience? Does he have hearing aids? Is the child working at grade level? Can the child read and write at grade level? When these basic questions have been answered, an evaluation of the learning environment must be made to determine what adaptations can be implemented to assist the child. Adaptations for a child with hearing loss include changes in teaching method, as well as additions in staff, equipment, or curriculum.
Changes in method include teacher presentation. It is important that teachers and staff members adapt a few communication basics: a) face the student so that he has a direct view of the mouth. For male teachers, this may mean trimming a beard of mustache. This will help in communication with the student through clearer voice sound, maximized volume without having to raise one's voice, and visual cues, b) Speak in a well-lit area, again to increase visual communication cues, c) reduce noise in the immediate area. This includes turning off fans, classroom equipment, fish tank filters, and other white noise to which hearing people become accustomed. This will help to maximize student/teacher communication, and d) adults and students should learn to speak to a hard of hearing student with natural tone, pace, and volume.
Shouting or exaggerated slowing of speech is needless and may draw unnecessary attention from other students. The special needs student, on the other hand, should be taught that it is good to ask a speaker to slow down or to repeat what was said if he did not understand. These changes could be introduced during a teacher in-service day by a trained professional. Or, ideally, the child's primary teacher would have additional training and expertise with hearing or language disabilities. The need to use sign language would depend, again, on the child's hearing level and desired mode of communication.
Providing additional staff may be warranted. For example, hard of hearing students may meet with a speech therapist several times a week to improve pronunciation that is adversely affected by the inability to hear words clearly. Additionally, a sign language interpreter may be necessary for student with more severe hearing loss. Interpreters are professionals who interpret spoken words into sign. Hard of hearing students who have the ability to communicate orally may benefit from an interpreter in certain circumstances such as school performances or lectures where one on one communication or visibility is limited. At these events, the interpreter stands to the side of the presentation where he/she is clearly visible to the student but not disruptive or distracting to the presentation. When addressing a hard of hearing student, or his parents, when an interrupter is present, the school staff member ought to address the student or parent, and not the interpreter. The interpreter is there as a conduit and does not make decisions for the person he/she serves.
Classroom equipment and curriculum to consider includes enhanced written, audio, and visual communication. Equipment includes audio tapes, head phones, personal computer, additional printed material, and closed caption. Close caption is used for movies and other media to display text for dialogue, narration, and other sounds. When showing a video in the classroom, closed caption or an interpreter should be included for the benefit of the hard of hearing student. A telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may be necessary to assist in telephone communication if the student will be communicating by telephone or if the parents are also hard of hearing of deaf.
In addition to academic and physical needs, the school must consider social, cultural, and emotional needs. A hard-of-hearing child sometimes gets caught between the deaf community and the hearing world. They are not fully deaf nor are they fully hearing. Since the world is largely hearing, inclusion in a hearing school may help the hard-of-hearing child to develop lifetime strategies to communicate with hearing children and adults. Furthermore, inclusion will help the student to learn standard forms of communication. In a school where all the children are deaf, communication takes a new form. Beyond oral -- vs. - sign communication, students at deaf schools develop different norms for body language and written communication. In a hearing school, the hard of hearing child has the opportunity to see and learn communication standards that are implicitly and non-implicitly taught.
Children with disabilities often face feelings of isolation or loneliness as they realize that they are 'different' than other students. Emotional health can be addressed in the classroom by providing the student with opportunities for peer communication. With a hard of hearing child it is important to provide one-on-one communication with peers. As friendships develop in the classroom opportunities for interaction during recess or after school relationships will increase. The classroom teacher is a role model for acceptance and adaptive communication skills with a hard of hearing student.
Role models also play an important role in the life of a child with a disability. If a school has a hard of hearing child, they may look for role models in the community to visit or volunteer at the school. Moreover, there may be a member of the staff who is hard of hearing that would be willing to be a role model or class room aid from time…