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Can Special Education Students Excel in an Inclusive Classroom?

by Lori Garrett-Hatfield

Since the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, children with disabilities have received an education in the least restrictive environment possible. In nearly all circumstances, children in special education can succeed in an inclusive classroom if given appropriate modifications or accommodations. A student served under IDEA receives an Individual Education Plan, called an IEP, constructed by the student's parents, teachers, and administrators to clarify the student's learning goals, his accommodations and modifications, and how his progress will be assessed.

Accommodations and Modifications

According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, an accommodation is a change that helps a student overcome or work around his disability. It puts a disabled student on a more equal footing with a student who is not disabled. For example, a student in special education may be allowed extra time to work on a standardized test. A modification is defined as a change in what is being taught or in the teacher's expectations for the student. For example, a special education student may receive fewer spelling words to study for the week as a modification.

Students with Physical Disabilities

According to NICHCY, students' physical disabilities can include a variety of impairments, such as cerebral palsy, vision or hearing impairments, or amputations. Examples of accommodations for a physically disabled student include large-print tests, sign language interpreters for standardized tests, verbal answers in lieu of written answers and tests read aloud to a student. Modifications for physically disabled students include classrooms designed for wheelchairs, larger doorways and adaptive technology.

Students with Intellectual or Learning Disabilities

Students who are intellectually disabled may have a difficult time functioning at the level of their peers. According to NICHCY, they also have limitations in social skills, communication, and in self-care. A student with a learning disability has a limitation on achieving a level of knowledge or skill in one or two areas. Examples of accommodations for students with intellectual or learning disabilities include extended time, frequent breaks and verbal answers instead of written ones. Modifications for learning disabled or intellectually disabled students could include fewer math problems, leveled reading books and oral answers rather than written.

Students with Emotional or Behavioral Disabilities

Emotionally or behaviorally disabled students could be bipolar, psychotic, obsessive-compulsive or they could have a conduct disorder. Accommodations for children with emotional or behavioral disabilities may include extended time on tests, preferred seating, individual test administration and small group testing. Modifications that may be helpful include self-monitoring or self-check sheets, a cooling off area for the student to go to when he feels angry or threatened, cue words for the teacher to use for noting inappropriate behavior and a stress ball by the student when he feels anxious.

About the Author

Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.

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