Challenges and History of Teaching Kids Who Are Mentally Retarded Term Paper

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teaching profoundly mentally retarded people. The writer explores historic methods and also discusses current methods of teaching such students. There were 10 sources used to complete this paper.

For the past four decades there have been many changes to the world of special education. Mentally retarded students used to be shuffled off to the classroom down the hall and kept away from the general population. If they were profoundly retarded they never even entered school and in many cases were instead institutionalized. Today, there are laws and federal mandates in place that protect the profoundly mentally retarded from being abused in such manners. Today the mentally retarded, along with other disabled residents of America are encouraged to live full lives as well as be educated to the best of their ability. Over the past years the styles, methods and pedagogical strategies for teaching profoundly mentally retarded people have changed dramatically in some areas and remained stationary in others.

In the past and even as recently as a decade or so ago profoundly mentally retarded individuals were not encouraged to learn. For the most part they were considered un-trainable and un-teachable and they were sent to institutions or sent to classrooms in which nothing more than babysitting occurred. Over the years this has changed, in part due to government intervention, partly due to the families of the mentally retarded individuals demanding change and partly because as a society evolving it has been discovered that the mentally retarded can indeed learn things. This has caused the shift from old fashioned and out of date methods to newer, more accepted methods that are used today.


The past 15 years have witnessed tremendous changes in the support and education of those who are disabled including those who have severe mental retardation. One of the biggest changes that have taken place is the desire to broaden the goals that were formerly very simple (Horner, 1997). Years ago the best the family of a severely mentally retarded person could hope for in the way of education and training for their disabled family member was to have them watched and cared for when the family had to go out or needed respite. Over the past two decades families, advocates for the disabled and government mandates have changed this viewpoint significantly. Today those who are severely mentally retarded find themselves able to live on their own with the assistance of companions as well as learn simple tasks and jobs for which they can be paid. One of the things that has allowed such changes in training and educating severely mentally retarded people was the fact that the assessment and intervention methods have been fine tuned in recent years (Horner, 1997).

Some of the obstacles that are experienced by those charged with teaching the severely mentally retarded include self-injurious behavior on the part of the client as well as behaviors and actions that can be harmful to other clients or staff members. This takes place in many educational settings including the classrooms and the residential training centers around the world. "The need for effective behavioral support continues to be intense. Problem behaviors, such as aggression (hitting, biting, kicking); self-injury (head banging, self-biting); (Horner, 1997) pica; and property destruction and disruption (screaming, throwing, pounding), have been a major cause of exclusion for students with severe disabilities (Reichle, 1990). Without effective behavioral support, students who exhibit problem behaviors face educational isolation, vocational isolation, community isolation, social isolation, medical risk, and exposure to highly intrusive forms of control and treatment (National Institutes of Health, 1989). Although we are far from delivering a technology that is effective for all students (Horner, 1997), recent advances in behavioral support have had a tremendous impact on the ability of teachers, parents, and community clinicians to support students with severe disabilities and problem behaviors (Horner, 1997)."

In the past the attempt to train the severely mentally retarded was confined to trying to contain behaviors as they occurred. Today the focus has shifted so that the foundation of education lies in the effective support for the student while the behaviors are changed and new skills are learned.

The biggest challenge currently facing the staff members charged with training and educating the severely mentally retarded is trying to prevent inappropriate behaviors while encouraging learning to interact with society.

Behavioral support for students with severe disabilities is far more than a process of reducing problem behaviors by rewarding desired behavior and punishing (or ignoring) undesirable behavior (Horner, 1997). To a very great extent, effective behavioral support is about engineering of settings (schools, homes, workplaces) so that problem behaviors become less likely. In addition, the teaching of new (socially appropriate) skills has become an integral part of behavioral support. If behavioral support is to result in both reduction in problem behavior and substantive change in how the child lives/learns, then the range of procedures we use must be equally expansive (Horner, 1997). The outcomes expected from behavior support are much higher than in the past, and past technology is adjusting to these expanded expectations (Horner, 1997)."

It is important in the attempt to instruct and teach those that are severely mentally retarded to conduct regular and intensive assessments to determine how effective the training and education efforts are and if they are lacking in some area, where they are lacking and how they are lacking.

To this end the experts believe there are several steps to take in the assessment and training of these individuals.

What type of assessment is best?

How often must one conduct assessments?

What level of detail is needed in a functional assessment?

Where should functional assessment information be collected (Horner, 1997)? "


Another important aspect of teaching those that are severely mentally retarded involves the environment that the person is being educated and trained in.

While the older methods of teaching students who were severely mentally retarded were directed at keeping them safe and not allowing them to mingle with the outside world, today's pedagogical strategies have moved toward as much integration as possible.

Contemporary programs include those in which the client lives in a residential setting such as an apartment or a shared house with a companion and a roommate or two. The client is taken to classes each day and taught as many basic living skills as they can be expected to master according to their individual assessment results. The "classrooms" are set up to resemble and model apartments and the clients are taught to do dishes, take out trash, do laundry and assist with chores such as cooking to the best of their individual abilities.

These modern strategies have allowed not only the severely mentally retarded to live the fullest lives possible in spite of their disability it has allowed their families to move on and be able to enjoy their golden years, much like parents of non-disabled children expect to do.

In the classrooms at school the students are integrated through inclusion as much as possible. Inclusion is a term used when students who have disabilities participate in classes with non-disabled students. The disabled students are given the chance to be educated with their non-disabled peers as much as possible. This right is provided by the federal government and IDEA. This right allows for those who are severely mentally retarded to attend regular or inclusion classes as often as possible as well as participate in extra curricular activites and eat lunch etc. with their non-disabled student peers.

The assessments for students includes many tests including standardized IQ tests, achievement tests and vocational assessments. The IEP team then convenes to determine the goals for the school year that the student will try and achieve. The goals are listed in the IEP along with any accommodations that will be needed for the student to attain each goal at the percentage of success that the team has targeted. The accommodations can range from special books and technological assistance to having an aid to assist in their getting through the class each day.

The advantage of mainstreaming students is the fact that they are being treated as equals, which is what this nation was founded on. In addition studies have shown in the past that mainstreaming students into inclusions settings often causes them to reach a little further than they would in a special needs classroom therefore they accomplish and learn more. A side bar advantage is that the regular students in the classroom are given an opportunity to show compassion and learn to appreciate and embrace diversity.

The disadvantages of inclusion and mainstreaming include the fact that the student who is severely mentally retarded may experience frustration both academically and socially in a mainstream setting. The other students who are not mentally retarded will be discussing and doing things that the retarded student cannot do or is not invited to do and this can cause frustration. In addition there may be some significant frustration levels on an academic level as the…

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