"Children with special needs don't have an illness, so they are not contagious. They want what we all want (and deserve),which is to be accepted..."
The above statement is an excerpt from several email and Facebook messages that I have received in recent days. The comment actually originated from a response to a national special children's education awareness week in the U.S.A. several months ago. I am not sure if there is a similar "week" in Canada but I thought it might be timely to take a closer look at the subject.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, I found the following very long sentence which nonetheless goes a long way toward explaining this very important issue.
"Special education is the education of students with special needs in a way that addresses the students' individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process involves the individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, accessible settings, and other interventions designed to help learners with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and community than would be available if the student were only given access to a typical classroom education."
Common special needs include challenges with learning, communication challenges, emotional and behavioral disorders, physical disabilities, and developmental disorders. Students with these kinds of special needs are likely to benefit from additional educational services such as different approaches to teaching, use of technology, a specifically adapted teaching area, or resource room.
Intellectual giftedness is a difference in learning and can also benefit from specialized teaching techniques or different educational programs, but the term "special education" is generally used to specifically indicate instruction of students whose special needs reduce their ability to learn independently or in an ordinary classroom, and gifted education is handled separately.
In most developed countries, educators are modifying teaching methods and school environments so that the maximum number of students are served in ordinary educational environments. Special education in developed countries is often regarded less as a "place" and more as "a service, available in every school." Integration can reduce social stigmas and improve academic achievement for many students.
I have watched with interest, teachers and students in classes attended by special needs children and have always been impressed with the rapport that is developed. I am convinced that everyone (teachers and students) gains from exposure to the special education environment and invariably come away as much stronger individuals with a unique perspective on life.
On March 11, of this year, the Government of Canada ratified the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention ensures that persons with disabilities, about 14 percent of the Canadian population, are given equal opportunities throughout their life. The Convention calls for an inclusive education system that is not only accommodating, but respectful, and supportive.
It sometimes takes a while, but eventually we Canadians do get it right.
This is my personal salute to the educators who facilitate such a worthwhile initiative.