Support to Thrive – An Essay
Original Essay – February 25, 2018
It is not too long ago that our society was referring to those with intellectual disabilities as “retarded.” Just in “January 2007, the major professional organization for people with significant cognitive or intellectual disabilities-the American Association on Intellectual Retardation (AAMR)-changed its name to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD)” (p.86 Exceptional Learners An Intro to Special Education). The word “retarded” has become a common term to use to insult someone. Therefore, when someone is labeled to have mental retardation it has a negative and insulting judgment even though it was put in place as a medical diagnosis. The Rosa Law that passed in 2010 making it that the “federal legislation solidified the use of the term intellectual disability”(p.86 Exceptional Learners An Intro to Special Education).
Making a switch from how we refer to those with intellectual disabilities allows room for growth in other areas as well. Just 58 years ago, in the 1960s, it was common practice to institutionalize those diagnosed with disabilities. This practice is dwindling because of allegations of abuse and overcrowding. People are becoming more accepting and willing to integrate and support these individuals. Because of their unique and individual needs, these families need support and special accommodations. The school system plays a large role in a person’s ability to thrive in the world. What resources and accommodations a child with disabilities receive through their educational program plays just as big a role in their future as it does ours. We go to school to learn so we can have the future we desire and so does someone with a disability. Their goals and dreams may look different than mine but they are just as important.
Over the years, school educators have become more hopeful and have educated themselves and implemented evidence-based treatments to best support those with intellectual disabilities. These evidence-based treatments give them more opportunity to have a career, live more independently, and be integrated into society. A child with a disability first step in the school system is to evaluate the appropriate learning environment for them – integrated classroom or secluded. It has been proven that being integrated provides more opportunity and healthier environment for the child and it is not always determined on the child’s severity but rather if they can get the proper support they need in that setting. Professionals look at “academic skills, adaptive behavior, and quality of life” (p.100 Exceptional Learners An Introduction to Special Education) to measure curriculum focus. They also take in information about communication, daily living skills, motor skills, behaviors, and social skills from parents or other primary caregivers. This helps give the idea of what “functional academics, teaching academics in the context of daily living skills”(p.101 Exceptional Learners An Introduction to Special Education) they need to support the child with.
After this data has been evaluated and the child is ready to start school, research has shown that systematic instruction and reinforcement are most beneficial. Systematic instruction works in a way that a thoughtfully defined behavior is selected to focus on consistent instruction, addressing foundational skills first, plan for the level of assistance, and monitoring. Reinforcement is a part of this because it is shown that immediate, positive reinforcement encourages the student to keep working on the task and challenging themselves.
As the child learns and grows it is important to keep evaluating their quality of life, satisfaction, well-being, social belonging, dignity, and empowerment, to know how to keep supporting them. This is where the Quality of Life Questionnaire comes in which measures these aspects of “home, relationships, freedom, leisure, and self-enhancement”(Cummins, 2006). Another key component to focus on for the student is self-determination. “Self-determination is the ability to act autonomously, be self-regulated, act in a psychologically empowered manner, and act in a self-realized manner (Wehmeyer& Mithaug, 2006). This gives the individual personal preferences, ability to evaluate self-behavior, feel in control of actions to lead to the desired outcome, awareness of strengths and weaknesses. The hope is to avoid the development of learned helplessness, disbelief that they cannot be self-determined.
You also want to empower the individual by giving the individual with an intellectual disability their own person-centered plan which empowers them to make their own decisions appropriately. These approaches are being taken for those with intellectual disabilities because although we are all in school to learn, those with intellectual disabilities are learning life skills so they have more opportunity to live independently, have a job, pay their bills, ride the train, read the newspaper, buy groceries, socialize, and be an active participant in society. Their education is based on the goal to achieve a self-determination lifestyle.