I have an extensive background and education working with students who have disabilities. And although I have been out of the "Special Education" classroom I have continued to work and identify students who have special needs. I also continue to read. I am what some might call a Teacher Nerd.
I have been fascinated with how the brain works and learns since I could remember. I read articles, short ones, on anything having to do with reading, learning, special needs, brain development, etc…
Last week a colleague of mine asked if I wanted to jump in on the ESE workshop offered by the county. Teacher's need to re-certify every 5 years and this year I need to include 20 ESE hours. I won't go off on the conversation of what I think about this but you may get where I stand by the time you read this blog.
So, off I went to this ESE workshop to apply for 6 out of the 20 hours needed. I had no idea what to expect. However, I was not surprised to learn I was in a basic 101 course on working with the different disabilities that float in and out of our classrooms every year. One would think I would have been bored. After all, what could I learn in a basic 101 class that I didn't get from my Bachelors or Masters in Special Education. Even the presenters I think were wary that they could keep my attention.
Well, I really enjoyed it. Politics change education constantly for funding purposes. And disability labels have been updated and become more socially correct. For example, when I graduated from college my specialization was Mental Retardation.
Okay, pick your jaw up off the ground. We would never accept that label today.
By the end of my first year teaching, it had switched to Mentally Handicapped. By the 3rd year, it was changed to Cognitive Delayed. Today it's called Intellectually Disabled (InD), Do you see the change over a period of 26 years?
This background brings me to a question we were asked to answer at this workshop. Why do we feel that there are more children diagnosed today? Is there an increase in disabilities?
I know I hear parents and teachers always saying they didn't hear about a lot of these disabilities like we do now. I know I have sometimes pondered it myself. Is there an answer?
We were given a bar graph showing the disabilities and their "numbers" by decades. And all of a sudden it jumped out at me. All this time it had been so obvious.
See, the jump in diagnosis is not because we have more children being "born" this way. We actually see jumps in the diagnosis when policy changes. For example, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was first signed into law in 1975 as Public Law 94-142. This is when we first see the increase in children diagnosed with disabilities because for the first time they are guaranteed a free and public education. In 1990, IDEA replaces PL 94-142and PL 99-457. In 1997, there are amendments made to include financial assistance for the support of the needs of toddlers and infants. We see another increase when IDEA is reauthorized in 2004 and 2015. Slowly certain disabilities lose numbers and others increase. This is attributed to the reclassification of disabilities and what quantifies eligibility. Now children who may have been classified as InD are now likely being reclassified to other disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some children who were thought to be Emotionally Behavior Disordered may now be serviced through a 504 as an ADHD student. Throw in the No Child Left Behind Act and Free VPK and we also have added more early intervention programs that are able to identify children with special needs.
So yes, we have seen an increase of children with disabilities in the mainstream classroom because we are better able to identify more clearly and earlier. And after all, all children with disabilities have the right to a free and public education in their least restrictive environment, which for most is a regular classroom setting.
This is why ESE hours are being asked of every teacher renewing their certificate. Including us veterans of ESE who can still have an AHA moment in a 101 class.
Wife, Mom, Educator and Lifelong Learner