“Getting teachers to consider scientific practices in special education a challenge”

EXCHANGE OF IDEAS: Jill Dardig and William Heward, international experts in special education, in Chennai on Monday. Photo. R. Ragu

EXCHANGE OF IDEAS: Jill Dardig and William Heward, international experts in special education, in Chennai on Monday. Photo. R. Ragu  

The best interventions are those provided early, says expert

The effort to get teachers from all areas into special education to consider and turn to science-based and evidence-based practices is very much a challenge, William Heward and Jill Dardig, international experts in special education, say.

Special education has always been a field that has attracted a lot of miracle cures/fads and promises primarily because parents are desperate for help for their child, Dr. Heward, Professor Emeritus of Education at Ohio State University, Ohio, U.S. adds.

“The challenge is to get teachers to consider scientific practices – we have not figured how to do that.” In a country like India, with a great deal of traditional knowledge and reliance on alternative systems, it does seem a greater challenge, he explains.

Best practices

In Chennai to participate in Learn 2010, Dr. Heward and Dr. Hardig, who is Professor Emerita at the Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio, also visited two schools – The Open School and The Learning Centre – run by Sankalp, an NGO working with children with learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

“We were amazed by the incredible use of limited space and resources for the number of children they are serving; they have staff who are unquestionably devoted to the children. What you see is a complete range of efforts to intervene, some of which we would instantly consider as best practices that we would recommend,” he says.

Both of them set store by the value of Applied Behaviour Analysis as an intervention that helps optimal development of children with ASD. There is evidence that this method works for a vast majority of children, especially in terms of language/social skills.

As people who have been in the special education sector for many decades, they have noticed a big increase in awareness about ASD globally. In the U.S., it was in the mid 1990s that officially autism came to exist as a disability category under which a child could receive special education services.

Before that, many of those children were picked up under other disabilities – mental retardation, behavioural disorders. Initially Autism was looked at as being a situation caused by mothers – children feel rejected by the mother, so they go internal and withdraw. “We don't know why autism exists still, only that it could be a combination of biological and environmental factors,” Dr. Dardig adds.

Irrespective of the cause, it has been established that the best interventions are when they are provided early and are multi-sectoral. “In an ideal world, we want to talk about a team where the school and family are equally responsible and equally contributing to the child's training and well being,” says Dr. Heward.

One of the biggest challenges in special education in America has been the transition of secondary students with all kinds of special needs from high school to adult life. For a number of years, parents felt the child was well taken care of by school until he/she turned 21. “After that they are distraught as they have to figure out the next step by themselves,” Dr. Hardig says.

To address this issue, the country thought up a “transitional plan” for every student as a real effort at self-determination, getting the students to decide for themselves. This programme begins when the child turns 14 and is evolved by the school, family and other agencies that help with employment, living arrangements and guidance for issues at work.

Dr. Heward also explains that in the U.S., special education means providing as much relevant teaching/training to the student so that he/she may be able to feel comfortable in a regular education classroom, or the mainstream. The Individualised Education Plan team starts with this assumption. Special educator function as consultants to help regular school teachers support the children with special needs. In the U.S., just over 50 per cent of all children with disabilities spend time in regular classrooms and a further 16 per cent are in separate classrooms in regular schools, he adds.

However, they both hasten to caution that unless the intervention is appropriate, the process may even set a child back further. Unless the child becomes a part of the meaningful academic fabric of the classroom, it will not work.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 4:01:19 PM |

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