Three of the major disorders that are included in special education include mental retardation, learning disabilities, and emotional/behavior disorders. The following define and describe the characteristics and effective teaching practices for the three major disorders according to the IDEA:
a. Mental retardation is a disability characterized by severely subaverage general intellectual functioning, which results in deficits in adaptive behavior that has manifested itself during the developmental period, prior to the age of 18. “Subaverage general intellectual functioning” refers to a score of two or more standard deviations from the mean below a standardized IQ test, which is approximately a score of 70. These deficits in adaptive behavior include an inability to meet the standards of personal independence and social responsibility of the age and social group.
There are effective teaching practices for students with mental retardation. These teaching practices include allotting students more time in order to complete their work, work that should be evaluated and appropriated based on the student’s ability. The skill level of any readings should be reduced and the student should have as much access to help and support, including a teacher aide, as possible. Participation in reading and comprehension should also be reduced to an amount that is appropriate for the student based on levels of mental retardation.
b. Learners with learning disabilities are those who have a disorder in which the student has difficulty learning in a normal manner under normal circumstances. A learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using written/spoken language, including listening, thinking, speaking, and writing. These “normal circumstances” include normal intelligence levels and a normal learning environment to succeed. Characteristics of learning disabilities include dyslexic or perceptually disabled students, such as those who are deaf or visually impaired. Students with learning disabilities have an average IQ level.
Students with learning disabilities should get a lot of help in learning properly, and there are many effective teaching strategies for them. Students should get an aide if there is a severe learning disability, and students should get as many accommodations as they need to perform as normal as possible. These accommodations include increased time on tests, in cases such as dyslexia or visual impairment, and accommodations should be made within the classroom itself. These accommodations include sitting the student closer to the front of the room for visual or hearing impairments, and, for severe deafness, a signer could be provided as an accommodation if necessary.
c. For students with emotional or behavioral problems, there is some level of difficulty in defining what an emotional or behavioral disorder is. There are problems with definitions because we lack precise definitions of “normal behavior,” and there are differences among conceptual models of mental health. Measurements of emotions and behavior are extremely hard and imprecise, and behavioral disorders often overlap with other disabilities.
Emotional disorders are currently defined as a conditioning exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors, an inability to build or maintain satisfactory relationships with peers and teachers, inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances, and a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with person or school problems. This term includes children with schizophrenia, but not “socially maladjusted” students who are not emotionally disturbed.
Students who have emotional or behavior disorders should have their workload reduced if an emotional disorder is so severe that it truly incapacitates the student in his or her ability to perform. An aide to keep the student on track and focused may be needed, and teachers should attempt to have a large amount of output or participation from the student if it is possible, but if a student is very impaired by the disorder, the level of output and participation may be reduced if the student is not able to completely integrate socially or educationally with the rest of the class.
Hallahan, D. & Kauffman, J. (2008). Exceptional Learners. New York: Pearson Publishing.