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Identifying Students with Disabilities and Strategies to Support Them

What role does a teacher have in identifying a student with a disability?

To determine whether special education services are needed, general education teachers usually begin a process of deciding whether to request that a student be assessed for the presence of a disability by analyzing the nature and extent of the student’s unmet needs; clarifying those needs by describing them through examples; determining that the needs are chronic and possibly worsening over time; comparing the student’s needs to those of comparable students; possibly recognizing that no pattern seems to exist for the student’s performance; and intervening to address the unmet needs and documenting those efforts (Friend & Bursuck, 2015). If concerns persist, the student’s needs may be assessed by an intervention assistance team (IAT) or response-to-intervention (RtI) procedures. If increasingly intensive interventions do not resolve the concerns, a multidisciplinary team (MDT) follows federally established special education referral and assessment steps, including completing an individualized assessment with parental permission, making decisions about the need for special education, developing an individualized education program (IEP), and monitoring special education services. If parents and school district personnel disagree on any aspect of a student’s special education program or services and if the disagreement cannot be resolved informally, due process procedures, including mediation and dispute resolution sessions, are used to ensure that the student receives an appropriate education.

When an IEP is developed, it includes the student’s present level of functioning, goals (and sometimes objectives), the justification for any placement outside general education, needed services, the person(s) responsible for the services, beginning and ending dates for service delivery, and criteria for evaluation. The IEP also may include a behavior intervention plan and a transition plan and generally must be reviewed at least annually. The services a student may receive as outlined by the IEP, include special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services. The educational environments in which these services are offered include a general education classroom, resource program, separate special education classroom, or a separate school or another separate setting. General education teachers play an integral role in the education of students with disabilities, from the early identification of students who appear to have special needs, through assessment and identification, to IEP implementation.

What is the INCLUDE strategy and how can you apply it to your classroom?

Instructional accommodations are supports provided to help students gain full access to class content and instruction, and to demonstrate accurately what they know. Instructional or curricular modifications are made when the content expectations are altered, and the performance outcomes expected of students change. The INCLUDE strategy is a decision-making process to help teachers make accommodations and modifications for students with special needs. The steps in INCLUDE are identified classroom demands; note student learning strengths and needs; check for potential areas of student success; look for potential problem areas; use information to brainstorm ways to differentiate instruction; differentiate instruction; and evaluate student progress.

The INCLUDE strategy is based on two key assumptions. First, student performance in school is the result of interaction between the student and the instructional environment (Broderick, Mehta-Parekh, & Reid, 2005; Mosenthal, 1984; Pisha & Coyne, 2001). Consequently, what happens in a classroom can either minimize the impact of students’ special needs on their learning or magnify it, making accommodations necessary. The second key assumption of INCLUDE is that by carefully analyzing students’ learning needs and the specific demands of the classroom environment, teachers can reasonably accommodate most students with special needs in their classrooms. The INCLUDE strategy contains elements of both universal design and differentiated instruction, two widely recognized approaches to addressing classroom diversity in general and inclusion in particular. Some application examples of the strategies that can be used in the classroom include: print alternatives such as graphics, video, and digital text to allow students with reading problems to more readily access subject content, the use of templates with partially filled-in sections and links to more information can help students construct a better essay, the use of student choice in the selection of classroom activities can maximize individual student engagement.

What are some of the student behaviors that may indicate learning disabilities? How can we modify instruction to help a student with a learning disability in a classroom?

There is a kid named Walker, who had a bike accident that left him with a minor concussion and returned to school with some noticeable changes in his academic performance. He started having difficulty comprehending and remembering information he had read, was failing weekly quizzes and tests, appeared to have decreased motivation, exhibited difficulty attending to and completing his work. These are some examples of student behaviors that may indicate learning disabilities. I think that Walker would need intervention assistance or an eventual transfer to special education classroom if the behaviors worsen. But for example, if he is still in my class, I would try to give him accommodations for learning. One accommodation I can utilize would be the use of digital text – it offers students the option of accessing information through digital text. Because digital text is flexible (rather than fixed like printed text), it can be either manipulated for easier visual access or converted to speech. Also, since motivation is one of his problems, I can incorporate some social-emotional competencies as part of differentiated lesson such as the concepts of balanced instruction, warmth and support, relationship management and collaborative learning to help him with motivation and to encourage engagement in lessons and learning tasks in the classroom (Yoder, 2014).

Broderick, A., Mehta-Parekh, H., & Reid, D. K. (2005). Differentiating instruction for disabled students in inclusive classrooms. Theory into Practice, 44(3), 194-202.

Friend, M., & Bursuck, M. D. (2015). Including students with special needs: A practical guide for classroom teachers.

Yoder, N. (2014) Teaching the whole child: Instructional practices that support social and emotional learning in three teacher evaluation frameworks. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research and Center on Great Teachers and Leaders.

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