Separate Classrooms for Children with Special Educational Needs (Special Education Programs)

29 May

 

NOTE:  This post is intended to answer the questions of parents of children that are not cognitively impaired by a neurological problem or brain injury.  If you or your child’s school feel that they may benefit from a separate classroom or program, you may be wondering what types of programs are available to them.  Most districts have some special education programs that they run themselves.  They may also be part of an educational collaborative, where several public districts share the costs of running the sped programs.  The last resource is a privately run program that the district pays to send a student to.  The biggest caution that I have for  parents, is to ask if the district mixes students that are cognitively impaired with students that are not cognitively impaired in separate classrooms (especially if your child is not cognitively impaired).  This is not considered best educational practice mostly because these two groups have very different needs in the educational setting.  Also know that their is a difference between a cognitively impaired child and a cognitively delayed child and the districts should usually not be designing one program to serve both types of children.

Before Agreeing to a Separate Program (or Classroom):

  • Observe the program at least once (while students are present)
  • Ask the teacher questions about how the class is run, the expectations for the students, and the specialists that work with her
  • Ask if cognitively impaired students are included in the program (if your child is not cognitively impaired)
  • Ask if there will be mainstreaming during the day
  • Ask about what comes next (is the program available at the middle and high school level)
  • Make your goals for your child clear to the team (if you want them fully mainstreamed as soon as possible, let that be known)
  • Research what outside programs are available and how those programs run
  • Find out what is considered the best interventions for your child’s disability
  • Ask the district representative about other available programs (you always want to know everything that is available so you can make a good decision)

Here are three of the most common types of separate programs that both public and private institutions run for children with special educational needs:

Programs for Emotionally and/or behaviorally Impaired Students [Emotional,/Behavioral Disabled (EBD) Classrooms]

These are substantially separate classrooms for elementary, middle and high school students with social, emotional, and/or behavioral problems that prevent participation in the general education setting. The programs are designed so students develop the skills and strategies needed to take part in a full academic school day, accessing general education curriculum in the least restrictive setting. Mainstreaming and inclusion opportunities are usually provided to the maximum extent possible depending on individual student progress.  Social workers, psychologists, adjustment counselors, and behavioral consultants may work with students.  In addition to academics, students will receive stress/anger management instruction, social skill building instruction, and behavior improvement plans.  The staff will work on replacing negative behaviors with more socially acceptable behaviors.  The goal is to move these students back into the general education setting as soon as possible with a new set of skills and strategies to help them be more successful.  The environment is purposefully less stressful, more supportive, and highly structured.  Some EBDs are for students that are cognitively impaired and  the academic part of this program may be much different from the general education curriculum.

Parents should ask their school district if they include cognitively impaired and non-cognitively impaired students in the same program.  It is not considered best practices in SPED to do this and it may be a negative step for your child if they are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case in your district, you can ask that your child be mainstreamed for academics and still receive the therapeutic aspects of the program.  You can also ask for an outside placement in a private school that is for emotionally/behaviorally impaired students that are not cognitively impaired.

Programs for Students with Language-based Disabilities [Language-Based (LB) Classrooms]

There are difference among these programs as well.  Some LB programs are specifically designed for children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), such as Autism or Aspergers and are for severe disabilities marked by communication, social and cognitive delays. Other LB programs are for children with PDD that do not have cognitive delays.  The programs foster independence in communication and enable the learners socially, functionally and academically as they pursue the goal of inclusion.  Other LB classrooms focus on specific areas of language, such as reading and/or writing, and are more geared toward dyslexic students that are not cognitively impaired.  These programs will have intensive instruction in reading and writing, as well as oral communication.  Social workers, reading specialists, speech and language pathologists, psychologists, and occupational therapists may work with students in these programs.

Parents should ask about the types of students serviced in the program that has been recommended for their child.  Again, it is not best practice to mix cognitively impaired students with students that have learning disabilities but are not cognitively impaired.  If this is the case, be sure to schedule an observation of the classroom before agreeing to it for your child.  Ask for an outside placement if you do not think the academics are challenging enough for your child.

Learning Centers

Usually for middle and high school students, learning centers offer academic support for students that are partially or fully mainstreamed.  Tutoring, editing, review, study skills, and behavioral or emotional support are offered.  Some students spend a significant part of thier day in a learning center, while others spend only one period there.  Sometimes other specialists work in the learning center, such as the guidance counselor or a social worker.  Some learning centers provide life skills or vocational training to students.  Before placing your child in a learning center, find out about the program and what types of students it serves.

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