Teaching Special Needs Children: The True Story

“If you are to judge people, judge them based on what they can do and not on what they cannot.” This is a quote you will find on the website of West Visayas State University, a school that offers courses in educating special needs students. In the world today, people are inundated with society placing labels on individuals. People make their decisions of how they perceive others based on what society labels them. Let’s take a look at a special group of children that are usually stigmatized by how others view or define them. This is talking about children with special needs that attend mainstream schooling. This feature story will allow you to see a little of what it is like to be labeled as special needs children. It will give you a little glimpse of what it entails in teaching students with special needs in a mainstream education system. This topic is important because we all need to be aware and understand how these children who may be our sons or daughters, friends or peers, classmates or students, are able to learn and succeed despite of their challenges. A long time ago, special needs students didn’t have a place in the mainstream school system, but today with the help of specialized teachers, these children have become a very visible and integrated part of our school system. Take a step back and experience what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.


According to the research done by KidCompanions.com, about 18.5% of American children under the age of 18 are special needs children. You are probably wondering, isn’t every kid special? Well, people like to think so, but “special needs” children usually have some form of a learning problem due to a physical disability, developmental delays, behavioral/emotional challenges, or some form of sensory impairment. So what does teaching special needs children entail? Special education teachers have responsibilities for teaching students with a wide range of learning disabilities, and based on the specific diagnosis and the severity of each student, these teachers need a lot of patience as well as an extensive knowledge of instructional practices to best suit each student’s learning capability. Ms. Alary, an assistant principal at ICS that has had experience teaching special needs students, noted that special needs kids require one-on-one teaching because they sometimes need extra time to grasp the material. It is also helpful for the teacher to understand each child’s individual struggles and guide them; this requires patience and more dedication. They are responsible for writing an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for each student which means the special education teachers must work with other teachers, parents, and specialists to come up with an individualized plan for each student. This plan is used to engage in the student’s progress. Teachers sometimes have difficulty with parents who have unrealistic expectations or set certain standards for their child. Mrs. Cumberland, who has been teaching special needs children at ICS for eight years, commented that, “students need to know that their parents and teachers are on their side and sometimes it’s a challenge to teach children due to their parents’ expectations and demands.” But the common frustration that most teachers feel is the feeling of helplessness when they have done everything they know how to help the student, yet he or she still can’t understand. When asked in an interview about what Ms. Cumberland least enjoyed about teaching special aid students, she said, “when I can’t fix the difficulty the student has, it saddens me that I am unable to find a way to help them.”


Because special needs children are defined as having a learning disability, it is not unusual that there are many misconceptions towards these children. The most common misconception is that children with special needs are mentally handicapped. An article posted on the thenewageparents.com website states that not all children with special needs have low intelligence. In fact, the majority of children with learning disabilities have average to above-average intelligence. It is found that their low academic advancement in certain areas is due to their impairment. A math teacher at ICS, Mrs. Stucky, noted that the special needs students have a harder time compared to their peers in their studies and therefore they have to put in more time. She goes on to say, “it doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t be able to do it, they need more time. You can’t judge them based on only one subject and that particular area they are struggling, but you have to see how they do overall.” Special needs students typically learn differently from the regular students. Many educators and children advocators can agree that identifying a child as a special needs students doesn’t imply that these students are not smart, talented, or capable; it just means that they have specific challenges that a “normal” student would not face. Ms. Stucky also commented that people make assumptions that special needs students must be unhappy and have a hard time in school, when it’s actually the opposite. Statistics have shown that special needs students show that they are just as capable of achieving what students without special needs can accomplish.


Rebecca Zusel, is a licensed clinical worker, therapist, and an active advocate for special needs children, wrote in her blog that back in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, the “special” kids were sent to “special” schools or to the basement in the schools, and this is where the stigma began for many people. This came out of fear, fear of the unknown and fear of not understanding the needs of the children. Through the years, there have been much progress and significant changes in education laws that provide for special needs students to be integrated in a regular classrooms alongside with their peers. However, the psychological stigma is still there for many students. Because they are selected in needing special services from the school or for them to be labeled as a “special education” student, they feel embarrassed and ashamed. They feel they are not as smart as their “normal” peers and this label seems to be attached to them. Because they are seen as “different”, students placed in a separate special education class may be at risk of being made fun of by their peers. Ms. Cumberland says that some of her students feel it’s a negative thing to be in a special education class. At ICS, she tries to keep it as positive as as possible in Resource class to show how amazing all the children are as a person. Sometimes students still feel labeled, but she says there is always room for encouragement, even if she can’t change their way of thinking. However, it’s encouraging to know that there are some students who are not affected by what others think. Ms. Stucky noted that there are students that are truly happy and they don’t let the stigma of being labeled as “disabled” get in the way of becoming the person they are capable of being.


Today the world is ever changing with new technology and it’s important to recognize that these changes not only affect the regular students but even more so the special needs students. Children with special needs, as well as the regular students, adapt to the changes in our world very differently and it is important to know how they respond to those changes. Technology has had a big positive impact on helping special needs students to excel and thrive in school than ever before. Assisted technology (AT) has become helpful for individuals with disabilities to fully participate in the classroom especially among kids that have mobility, hearing, or vision impairments. Devices such as the portable voice synthesizer and graphic enhancements software to enlarge print have become a powerful tool for children with visual impairment; amplification devices and FM systems have allow students to hear teachers without any noise interference. The portable voice synthesizer allowed a classroom not to require a full time interpreter for kids that cannot ask or respond to teachers. There are unlimited benefits of assisted technology out there today to help children excel, and as a result, children often feel better about themselves and about learning along with their peers. Not only has technology helped students, it has become a powerful tool for teachers who work with such children. AT can assist teachers to personalize lessons and skill enhancements for each child’s needs also. Ms. Cumberland said, “Technology has done amazing things to help children.” With advancements in devices, students can use it effectively for learning, even though it’s not useful in every situation, it can help improve a person’s learning. Although technology has many benefits, it doesn’t solve everything. Ms. Stucky pointed out technology is really helpful as it can help special needs students to get good feedback and guide them to learn the material. However, technology can sometimes be a distraction like an inclination to social media; there needs to be a balance. Ms. Alary noted that while technology is helpful, it can’t solve every single problem. If she had a choice, she would prefer to sit one-on-one with the student with or without the use of technology. For her, nothing can replace human interaction.


When people as a society put labels on special needs students, one must think of the consequences it has on them. When labeling a student as “not normal” or “disabled,” people succumb to assumptions, generalizations, and ignorance. Students with special needs have their own struggles and challenges, just like any other regular student. The only difference is that special needs students feel they are different because of how others perceive them and their disabilities; because of this they feel stigmatized. Low self-esteem is the result of being seen as different or needing specialized help with school subjects.  Teachers play a very important role in educating, guiding, and encouraging special needs students in all areas of learning. With certain accommodations and support from their teachers they can reach their full potential. In summary, Tiffany Rubin, a special education teacher in New York said, “special education is a necessary part of the educational system. When it is done properly, with good educators, and active parents, it can have a positive effect on the families and students. It can serve as a life preserver in a sea of confusion, despair, and the unknown.”

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