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Special Education

Having a learning problem doesn’t by itself qualify a student for special education services. It’s the gap between her current school performance and her academic and intellectual potential, as determined by the testing, that decides eligibility. A significant discrepancy between the two would warrant special services. Now the question is, which services?

One of the cornerstones of the Individuals with Disabilities Act is that students with disabilities be educated alongside their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent possible. By that standard, the ideal situation is inclusion: being taught in a regular classroom in the regular school building, but with additional services provided as needed. One teen’s schedule might include weekly speech therapy and time in a resource room; another might require sessions with a school psychologist.

In general, fewer options exist in junior high and high school than at the elementary-school level, where special education often takes place in separate, self-contained classrooms. As early as kindergarten, a student may spend one or two periods in a regular classroom, with an eye toward full mainstreaming before going on to middle school. In U.S. public schools, four in five youngsters with learning disabilities and nearly two in five boys and girls who are mentally retarded are taught in regular classes.

By the time of junior high, only those adolescents who have been diagnosed with severe learning problems are likely to be placed in alternative sites, which typically offer small class sizes and a curriculum that blends both academic and vocational skills. Students with mild or moderate disabilities are almost always mainstreamed. However, they may receive special accommodations in classroom environment or instruction to help them learn, depending on their needs. Below are some examples of special measures that might be implemented in a regular classroom:

  • Having the student sit front center, near the teacher’s desk and away from windows, doors, air conditioners, radiators and other potential distractions. 
  • Simplifying instructions and avoiding multiple commands.
  • Allowing the student to take exams in a small, quiet room.
  • Allowing the student extra time to finish tests and other classroom assignments.
  • Reviewing test instructions or homework assignments on the blackboard.
  • Allowing a student with an auditory-processing problem to wear earplugs, to block out extraneous noise. Or alternately, having her wear a wireless device that transmits the teacher’s voice directly to an earpiece while blocking out ambient noise. 
  • Ordering a second set of books to keep at home, in the event that a student leaves his books in his locker—a not-uncommon occurrence. 
  • For dyslexic, dysgraphic students who have difficulty spelling and poor penmanship, grading papers primarily on content rather than on spelling and neatness. 
  • Allowing students with learning disabilities to use word processors, calculators, audiobooks, tape recorders, spellers and other assistive technology.
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Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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