The American Association of Intellectual and development disabilities defines intellectual disability or mental retardation as that form of disability that is characterized by significant limitations of both functional and intellectual behavior that is generally expressed in the social, adaptive and conceptual skills. It’s generally known to originate before the child reaches the age of 18 years.
Hardman, Drew and Egan, in their book, ‘Human Exceptionality: School, Community and Family’ adopt the above definition, with an assertion that the extend of the disability or rather the severity of the condition is influenced by the individuals participation and their interactions as well as their assigned social roles in the community and their overall mental and physical health and by extension, the environment in which they are brought up (Hardman, Drew & Egan, 2011).
Researchers have found that the causes of intellectual disabilities are varied. It’s however agreed that the causes of intellectual disabilities are generally unknown especially in cases where the individual experiences mild level of the disability. However, the profound intellectual disabilities are thought to be caused by biomedical, behavioral, social cultural influences and in some cases, prenatal influences
The impact of this form of disability on the education of the child is derived from the characteristics and difficulties that the child experiences in their learning process. Students with intellectual disabilities exhibit all or some of the following characteristics: Poor reading and comprehension, significant deficiencies in the understanding of mathematics, inability to apply problem solving skills, resigned attitude to the fact that learning may be impossible and significant delays in language development.
The above characteristics explain the problems that would be experienced by the affected student. Such difficulties and deficiencies have profound effects on the students learning and development and this calls for intervention to ensure that the affected students receive the required special attention. (Hardman, Drew & Egan, 2011)
According to the American Psychiatric Association, autism is defined as a developmental disability which affects both verbal and non verbal communication as well as social interaction of the affected child usually before the age of 3 and generally affects the education performance. The major characteristics of autism include general irregularities in communication, resistance to changes in the environment as well as unusual responses to sensory information. According to Hardman et al, the prevalence rate of autism is about 0.0005% of the total population ().
The causes of autism, just like the other intelligence disabilities are not very clear. Psychoanalytic theorists however believe that autism is majorly as a result of the interaction between the family and the child. This is thought to impact on the developmental process of the child, sometimes leading to such this disorder. The biological view however attributes autism to genetic configuration or even neurological damage.
The impact of autism on education has been a major issue of discussion in many educational forums. Its effect on language development, interpersonal skills, intellectual functioning as well as emotional and affective behavior is a major cause of concern to educationists since children with autism are regarded as deserving very special attention as a result of these anomalies
Severe and multiple disabilities
It has been difficult to come up with a single all inclusive definition of severe and multiple disorders. This is because; by its nature, severe and multiple disabilities is a combination of many forms of disabilities thus necessitating multiple definitions. Attempts have however been made to come up with some comprehensive definitions.
Justen defined severe disabilities to include ‘‘those individuals who are functioning at a general development level of half or less than the level which would be expected on the basis of chronological age and who manifest learning and/or behavior problems of such magnitude and significance that they require extensive structure in learning situations” (Justen,1976).
In 1977, Sailor and Haring defined severe and multiple disabilities on the basis of educational requirements thus ‘A child should be assigned to a program for the severely/multiply handicapped according to whether the primary service needs of the child are basic or academic. . . If the diagnosis and assessment process determines that a child with multiple handicaps needs academic instruction, the child should not be referred to the severely handicapped program. If the child’s service need is basic skill development, the referral to the severely/multiply handicapped program is appropriate’ (Sailor& Haring,1977)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines multiple disabilities as ‘‘concomitant impairments (such as intellectual disabilities–blindness, intellectual disabilities.
Orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educationa needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf–blindness (Hardman, Drew & Egan, 2011)
There are a number of possible causes of severe and multiple disabilities depending on the disability itself. Mostly, they are caused by genetic or metabolic disorders, as well as abnormalities in chromosomal development, or even Rh incompatibility. Other causes include drug abuse, venereal diseases, poor maternal health, radiation exposure or even physical and emotional neglect, poisoning and accidents
The impact on the education of the child will of course depend on the severity of the disability and also the multiplicity of the same. For instance acute visual or hearing disability may significantly affect the normal learning of the student. Likewise, a student without limbs will find it difficult to perform normal learning activities.
Identify areas of curriculum necessary for students with severe disabilities and explain why they are needed
The teaching of students with severe disabilities calls for in-depth understanding of the students' disabilities and the various interventions that are necessary in ensuring that the students reach their fullest potential. The teaching curriculums should be designed in such a way that the individual needs of the students are met. In so doing, the curriculum should address:
The student’s need for Self determination
According to Bremer et al, people with severe disabilities have self determination just like anyone else. They have ambitions, aspirations and goals just like their ‘normal’ counterparts. Therefore, the school curriculum should have policies that promote self determination as this enhances the students’ opportunity to be more independent of their families and community at large. It also enhances the students ability to communicate their preferences and needs and thus enhancing their adaptability, autonomy as well as problem solving skills in readiness for the demanding outside world. (Bremer et al, 2006).
The curriculum in place should show support for parental involvement in the students learning process. Schools are actually much more successful if there is an established positive relationship with the family members of students with severe disabilities. This is in recognition of the fact that it’s important that the parental role that is played by parents is extended even in the elementary years of the child’s development. Parents are generally more likely to fully understand the particular student needs and as such, parents who are actively involved in the educational program of the child promote the implementation of instructions that is very consistent with the needs of the child.
Effective training on functional skills
An effective curriculum should focus on educating students on the most functional skills that are useful in the society in which they live. For instance, children with severe disabilities would benefit from a curriculum that addressees day to day issues such as crossing the streets, shopping, eating in a restaurant, playing video games etc. The developers of the curriculum should not assume that the school curriculum is able to transfer functional skills to the outside society as this is never the case. Instruction in a more natural environment should ensure that the skills are useful and will be maintained in the coming days.
Use of assistive technology
Assistive technology defines any item, equipment or even a product that can be used to increase or even maintain or assist in the improvement of functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. These include, but not limited to: wheelchairs, Braille’s, hearing aids, artificial limbs, cushions, head supports, pelvic strips and hip guides etc.
All the above should be included in a curriculum as they help in aiding the affected student to be more comfortable in the day to day activities, whether in the classroom or even outside.
Implementation of the above policies and programs in the local district school
The local district school has made tremendous steps in ensuring inclusivity in the addressing of the needs of the special needs of the various students who form its population. Key among these programs is the implementation of policies that ensure that all special needs students are accommodated, without any form of discrimination and at the same time, are taught in the same classrooms with ‘normal’ students so as to ensure that they learn how to be self reliant. Their address of the above mentioned areas of curriculum is discussed hereunder.
The programs and policies in use by the local school district seem to resonate, to a large extent to the areas of curriculum that have been discussed above. It’s however notable that it’s to a lesser extent that these policies and programs that have been discussed are implemented.
In the first instance the curriculum in this school attempts to instill the values of self determination in the students especially by talking to the students on the various uses of their abilities and how beneficial each of their special abilities could be, if fully utilized.
Parental involvement is also encouraged in the available curriculum. Parents are encouraged to fully support the teachers in the instruction of the students with severe disabilities. This is done since the parents have more understanding of the individual specific disabilities and their participation and involvement has been found to assist in the students learning potency.
Parents open days are frequently organized where the main agenda is to have the parent discuss with the teachers on the issues affecting the students and the best way to ensure better instruction and learning for the student.
While it’s a very important aspect of the development and learning of students with severe disabilities, the school does not fully embrace the training of functional skills to the students. There has been a lot of reliance on class knowledge to help the students to run their lives in the outside world but the trend has been changing in the recent past. This has seen the training of students in more practical skills that are useful in the society that they live in.
The use of assistive technology has been implemented to a very large extend. Most of the students use assistive technology such as wheelchairs, crutches and many others. The cost implication of some of these equipment has however has been deterrent and therefore some students have to make do with the minimum available equipment for their studies.
Justen, J. (1976). Who are the severely handicapped? A problem in definition. AAESPH Review, 1(5), 1–12.
Sailor,W.& Haring, N. (1977). Some current directions in the education of the severely/multiply handicapped. AAESPH Review, 2, 67–86.
Bremer, et al. (2003). Self-determination: Supporting successful transition. Research to Practice Brief of the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, 2(1), 3.
Autism Fact Sheet - Guide for Parents of Autistic Children located on the Child Development Institute website.
Hardman, M.L. Drew J.C. & Egan M.W. (2011) Human Exceptionality: School, Community, and Family. Wadsworth, Cengage learning