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Chapter 12
Learners with Exceptionalities

Who Are Learners with Exceptionalities?

Learners with exceptionalities are students who have special educational needs in relation to societal or school norms. An inability to perform appropriate academic tasks for any reason inherent in the learner makes that learner exceptional. A handicap is a condition or barrier imposed by the environment or the self; a disability is a functional limitation that interferes with a person's mental, physical, or sensory abilities. Classification systems for learners with exceptionalities are often arbitrary and debated, and the use of labels may lead to inappropriate treatment or damage students' self-concepts.

About 10 percent of students in the United States receive special education. Examples of learners with exceptionalities are students with mental retardation, specific learning disabilities, speech or language disorders, emotional disorders, behavioral disorders, vision or hearing loss, cerebral palsy, or seizure disorders. Students who are gifted and talented are also regarded as exceptional and may be eligible for special accelerated or enrichment programs. Clearly identifying learners with exceptionalities and accommodating instruction to meet their needs are continual challenges.

What Is Special Education?

Special-education programs serve children with disabilities instead of, or in addition to, the general education classroom program.

Public Law 94-142 (1975), which was amended by P.L. 99-457 (1986) to include preschool children and seriously disabled infants and is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) according to P.L. 101-476 (1990), mandates that every child with a disability is entitled to appropriate special education at public expense. Strengthened by P.L. 105-17 (1997), IDEA calls for greater involvement of parents and classroom teachers in the education of children with disabilities. The least restrictive environment clause means that students with special needs must be mainstreamed into general education classes as much as possible. A requirement of IDEA is that every student with a disability must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The idea behind the use of IEPs is to give everyone concerned with the education of a child with a disability an opportunity to help formulate the child's instruction program. An array of services is available for exceptional students, including support for the general education teacher, special education for part of the day in a resource room, special education for more than 3 hours per day in a special-education classroom, special day schools, special residential schools, and home/hospitals.

What Are Mainstreaming and Inclusion?

Mainstreaming means placing students with special needs in general education classrooms for at least part of the time. Full inclusion of all children in general education classes with appropriate assistance is a widely held goal. Research has shown that mainstreaming is effective in raising many students' performance levels, especially when cooperative learning, buddy systems, peer tutoring, computer instruction, modifications in lesson presentation, and training in social skills are a regular part of classroom learning. Research has also shown that some disabilities, especially reading disabilities, can be prevented through programs of prevention and early intervention.

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