Special Needs children families have different needs when it comes to education of their child. With child having certain disabilities the focus of the education may not be in one aspect but multiple. Multiple experts may be needed to assist the child in developing the required skills. Most special needs parents also need assistance in understanding this aspect of their child life. Apart from them we in general do not understand the requirement of special needs education.
Let’s understand the importance of a special needs child education and where is India progressing:
What is Special Needs Education?
The word special educational needs does have a definition completely legal. The children with special needs are referred to children who have some learning problems or disabilities. These issues that make it tough for them to learn as much as the children with similar age can do. Every child has a different rate of progress and different ways to learn. So the child with special needs will also have a completely different rate of growth and means to learn. Since this is not common across general terms their needs are terms as special needs.
Types of Special Needs
There are different types of special needs and each one has a different requirement. People with Autism, Down Syndrome, Dyslexia, Blindness, and ADHD etc. are considered to have special needs. However, people with missing limbs, cleft lips or palates can also be termed having special needs. Thus, there is no specific definition of disability which can be linked with special needs requirements. Ideally, the disability can be defined in 2 ways –
- From a medial perspective i.e. an individual having any kind of deficiency.
- It can also be defined from a social perspective i.e. it occurs due to some socially created issues.
Countries across the globe have taken different approaches to categorize disability. For example in US the special needs is more from educational context. So whenever a child needs to be provided a different education than what is provided to any individual the needs can be termed as special needs.
Individual Vs Social
In India the special needs definition has derived from the definition of Disability under Persons With Disabilities Act 1995. Under this act Disability have been categorized as Blindness, Low vision, Leprosy Cured, Hearing Impairment, Locomoter disability, Mental Retardation and Mental Illness. The act has been replaced by Rights to Persons With Disabilities Act 2016 where the list has been enhanced. What this categorization means is that disability is considered an individual pathology. Under this approach it is considered that an individual has some defect. This needs to be corrected through treatment by professionals. For Indian government the categorization is done to create separate provision for them. But the major issue with such categorization is the societal attitude towards disabled which gets built up in the long run. In such instance the expectations are completely different from a mainstream child.
There is another approach which is known as Social approach. Here the disability is viewed as a social problem rather than an individual defect. In this approach it’s assumed that creating a good access to a disabled is the responsibility of society and not the person with disability. Poor access of school to the disabled children is created by school system which has failed to fulfill its social obligations.
ICF WHO Approach
In India the disability is defined at an individual level. But the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF, 2001) defines disability on biopsychosocial approach. This approach results from both medical and social model of defining disability. According to ICF, 2001: “an individual’s functioning in a specific domain is an interaction or complex relationship between the health conditions and contextual factors (i.e. environment and personal factors). There is a dynamic interaction among these entities: intervention in one entity has the potential to modify one or more of the other entities”.
Thus there may not be a defined system of classifying type of special needs. Countries may have their own approach. But largely the classification done in India needs lot more improvement which we saw in Disability Bill 2016. By increasing this categorization of Disability the government accepted that disability is not a predefined measure and needs constant improvement.
How Special Needs Child Education Assessed?
There are different stages at which a disability in any individual can be identified. In some cases it is known by birth while in many cases it gets identified at later stage of life say at mainstream school. Whenever it does get identified, it’s an emotional setback for parents which they have to get through. But once the child disability is known the most important task with parents/guardian is to assess the educational needs. Parents known that its going to be different. But with low level of awareness among agents and societies it’s difficult for parents to judge. Here if the early assessment is done it benefits parents in knowing what needs to be done for the child future.
The educational needs for a special needs child are assessed through formal and information assessment. The information assessment is based on medical test, files, interviews etc. Contrary to this the formal assessment includes IQ test, standardized process of assessing the progress, etc. To identify the correct education requirement both these forms of assessment are important.
There are also specialized assessments which may be done for the special needs child. Here school teachers, psychologist, therapist, special educators may be involved in performing the assessment. To what extent these assessment will be done are based on specific disability requirement.
Once these assessments are done the continuity in child education is known and that’s where parents have an understanding. But these assessments are not helpful only at start. There are life changes which will change these requirements. For example once the child is an adult then the education need may change completely. That’s why the assessment is a continuous process to accommodate these changes.
Special Needs Education
Special needs education has been addressed in 2 aspects. One there are special needs school where special needs children education is provided. The school caters to only the specific requirement of disabled child and thus has all experts resources related to it. In such schools the special needs child is surrounded by children with similar requirement. In general there is special schools categorization which means there will be a special school for a specific disability. For example there are special schools only for Visual Impairment, Intellectual Disability or for children with hearing impairment.
Special schools have some advantages but at the same time they also run with some disadvantages. Catering to a specific disability they can be more equipped to provide resources to families. Simultaneously they can provide resources to regular schools which may need specialist to support special needs education. Some schools have been successful in developing a common culture required by the families.
But there is also some disadvantage a special school may have. The largest fear among parents is that the child may not adapt the family environment once h/she get used to a special school. In many cases the child is being left on their own or they spend their lifetime in special institutions without being aware of the outside world.
The other aspect and which is gaining importance is inclusive edition. This form of education refers to an education system where all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, emotion or any other conditions are accommodated. The school has to enable education structures, system and methodologies to meets the needs of all children. The benefit of this education system is that it does acknowledge that all children irrespective of their disabilities cam learn. It helps in improving education system at different levels- school, society and individuals. It’s more of dynamic process which needs constant improvement to build such an education system.
The Situation in India
India has been much behind the developed worlds in building a good education system for special needs individuals. Though there are special schools India has witnessed Integrated Education. Here the school focused on filling up the required seats as per mandated by law and not actually fulfilling the social responsibility. The special needs child in such a system is consider to be more of a problem. If you analyze mainstream schools today then we find that the school lacks any kind of infrastructure to accommodate these children. The families have to finally look up to special schools for their special needs child. Though initiatives have started by the government and many institutions to focus on inclusive education we are still at the beginning.
These below charts developed by NCERT in its Manual “Meeting Special Needs in School” beautifully summarize the three forms of education system and why inclusive education is the best means to build a culture of good education system in India.
Source : NCERT
The needs of a special needs individual may be different. But there is a requirement of a good education system which not only provide resources but also focus towards societal acceptance of an inclusive learning system.