In a typical learning environment, a teacher will almost invariably face multiple types of exceptionalities. Children with exceptionalities are commonly allowed to access the special education service, but it is not rare to find them in the general classroom environment. The teacher will be required to easily recognize the exceptionalities and understand their signs and characteristics in order to facilitate their inclusion in the classroom environment and help make the curriculum successful. A child with an exceptionality typically has one or more characteristics that deviated from what is considered the norm for mental and physical abilities. The term exceptionalities is often used in education circles to help identify and classify existing patterns of needs and strengths that may be common to groups of students. There are numerous different categories for exceptionalities including speech and language impairments, intellectual disabilities, visual impairment, autism, orthopedic impairments, emotional and behavioral disturbances and giftedness and talent. There are three very common types of classroom exceptionalities which include intellectual disability, autism, and emotional and behavioral disorders. A teacher must be well aware of exceptionalities in the classroom and facilitate the most appropriate interventions.
Intellectual disability, formerly called mental retardation, is one of the most common developmental disorders in the learning environment. Students with intellectual disability have problems in two core areas; intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Intellectual functioning mainly points towards cognitive functions like problem-solving, communicating and learning while adaptive behavior refers to functions like every day social skills, hygiene and routines. The limitations in these areas are best defined by observing the students expression of social, conceptual and practical adaptive skills (Thomas ). The student may have significant difficulties in written language, reading, math, behavior, social esteem and typically display low self-esteem.
Most students with marked intellectual disability are likely to be accommodated in special need programs, but a good number of students with mild intellectual disability will be found in the general learning environment. These students will exhibit varying levels of limitation in their ability to pay attention, remember information, retain information and even utilize newly gained or already present knowledge. These limitations may inhibit the students success and self-efficacy if not detected early in the students education and addressed satisfactorily. Such students are likely to be categorized as slow learners and will most likely be behind their peers by between 2-4 years when they start school and this gap usually widens with age despite working harder than the rest of the student population (Madtha, 2015)
Normal learners usually have an Intelligence quotient (IQ) of between 85 and 110. Learners who have an IQ of below 70 are usually considered to have intellectual disability and are accommodated in special needs programs (Madtha, 2015). Students with mild intellectual disability or slow learners usually have not reached the level of being considered to have intellectual disability, but their learning process is likely to be relatively protracted hence the need for the urgent identification of their needs and modification of teaching strategies to ensure that they thrive in the general learning environment. Slow learners are typically not averse to learning, and this is the major distinction between them and non-cooperative learners. Most students with intellectual disability may need to prepare longer for exams and often meet peer tutors or receive additional tutoring in order to perform comparably with their peers (Calefati, 2009). Additionally, they are likely to have a relatively short attention span and prefer to work outside time constraints seeing as they have their own pace. They may show little to no interest in cramming skills and portray an emotional, innocent and sensitive demeanor. The greatest factor in enabling their success is usually encouraging them and working to give them confidence. A USA Today article also recommends a technological tool called schoology to personalize the curriculum (Albright, 2015). Here, students are allowed to study at their own pace at any given time allowing students with mild intellectual disability the time to understand concepts and progress unhurried.
Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
Another exceptionality that teachers are likely to encounter in the classroom is emotional and behavioral disorders. There are two fundamental types of emotional and behavioral disorder; internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Externalizing behaviors are the most common emotional and behavioral disorder pattern in the general learning environment and include behaviors such as the threat to themselves or others, lying, tantrums, destruction and stealing. Externalizing behaviors are often very disruptive to the classroom environment and lead to significant losses in earning time for both the individual student and the classmates. Internalizing behaviors, on the other hand, include behavior patterns like hypochondria, shyness, withdrawal and being easily upset or/and difficult to calm down (Anderson, 2012). Internalizing behaviors mostly play out within the student's psyche and usually have little to no external manifestation.
Emotional and behavioral disorders adversely affect student and pupil academic achievement and social life. Students with these disorders tend to have relatively lower GPA, learning and language delays and multiple absences from school. Such students are also likely to have poor participation in extracurricular activities, have markedly higher levels of juvenile delinquency, exhibit low peer relations and lower levels of empathy than their peers. Emotional issues can create various issues in the classroom, and it is, therefore important that they are identified and addressed early. Early intervention is key in helping the students obtain the help they need to enable them to succeed both academically and socially. Experts contend that if the behavior is caught early before it becomes ingrained the children may be provided with tools to get them back on track before it degenerates to juvenile delinquency and criminal acts (Carrol, 2007).
Studies with emotional and behavioral disorders are better catered for through inclusion in the general learning environment rather than in special needs institutions. One proven way to address emotional and behavioral problems in these students is to institute positive behavior reinforcement systems in the classroom (Concordia University, 2016). Here, the teacher identifies positive behaviors to be rewarded including working quietly, staying seated in class raising their hands when they are done with work and many others. Finding ways to enhance student participation in class is also helpful particularly in those with internalizing behaviors. Another effective strategy teachers can adopt to handle students with emotional and behavioral disorder in an inclusive classroom is the allowance of short breaks within class periods. Most students with emotional and behavioral disorders lack the emotional balance allowing them to concentrate for long periods of time (Concordia University, 2016). Instead of reprimanding them for their inevitable lapses in concentration, the teacher should work in breaks.
One exceptionality that all teachers should learn to identify and assist in the classroom today is autism. The prevalence of Autism among Children in the US is currently at about 1 in 68 (Combs, 2015). Most schools in the country today are working towards inclusion which requires the full-time membership of students with various exceptionalities in age-appropriate general learning environments (Combs, 2015). With inclusion, teachers are required to recognize the signs and characteristics of students and pupils with autism. Autism is a spectrum of developmental disorders collectively known as Autism Spectrum Disorders. The spectrum includes pervasive developmental disorder, autistic disorder. Aspergers disorders and Retts disorder.
Autism is characterized by problems in communicating with language and social interactions. More than half of the children with autism are unable to speak while those who can often do it in the form of echolalia. Some autistic students may exhibit splinter skills areas of unexpectedly superior performance as compared to others. A good number of students with autism may have significant difficulties in filtering out unnecessary information, attending to the meaningful aspects of the class environment, maintaining an appropriate level of motivation and learning new information in the learning environment (Denning & Amelia, 2013). Autism may also be associated with problem behaviors including sleep problems, aggressive behaviors, pica and property destruction. The behavioral problems associated with autism may pose a problem to classroom learning if the teacher does not recognize the signs of autism and how to facilitate the inclusion of students with autism in class.
The inclusion of students with autism in the general learning population enhances their social functioning in and out of the school environment (Tayor, 2017). However, order to recognize and help children with autistic disorders in inclusive classrooms, it is important for teachers to understand the disorders first. Understanding the condition will enable the teacher to correctly identify behaviors associated with the conditions (Moran, 2015). For example, the blunt honesty characteristics of Aspergers syndrome could be wrongly interpreted as rudeness attracting reprimand. Identifying the underlying disorder helps the teacher to modify their behavior in anticipation of potential problems. The student's peers should also be educated and urged to promote social goals. The teacher should make it clear to the regular peers that the autistic child may be different but is a valued member of the earning environment.
In the general learning environment, there exists a wide array of exceptionalities that the teacher needs to be aware of. Teachers need to be able to recognize the signs and characteristics of these exceptionalities to facilitate early intervention which increases the chances for their successful inclusion in the learning environment. Once students with exceptionalities are successfully included in the classroom environment, it goes a long way into ensuring that the curriculum is successful. Intellectual disability, emotional and behavior disability and autism are three of the most common exceptionalities in the classroom environment today.
Albright, M. (2015, March 30). Schoology helps teachers personalize the classroom. Retrieved from USA Today: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/03/30/tech-schoology-classroom/70693640/
Anderson, S. R. (2012). Psycho-Educational Processes as Strategies for Students Presenting with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. American International Journal of Contemporary Research, 25-35.
Calefati, J. (2009, February 13). College Is Possible for Students With Intellectual Disabilities. Retrieved from US News: https://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2009/02/13/college-is-possible-for-students-with-intellectual-disabilities
Carrol, L. (2007, November 11). Bratty or Behavior Disorder? Help for Parents. Retrieved from NBC News: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21778195/ns/health-childrens_health/t/bratty-or-behavior-disorder-help-parents/#.Wfng-Hb-uyw
Combs, L. (2015, April 16). Opening the Classroom Door for Child...
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