Exceptional Individuals

Exceptional Individuals describes the wide variety of students who exhibit symptoms of mental and/or cognitive impairment or disability. It includes both physical and psychological ailments, but in this section the disabilities described are primarily cognitive and require adjustments in teacher planning, instruction, and assessment.

Social Justice and Disabilities

Within special education, social-justice intentions illuminate many dimensions of practice. Particularly, it demonstrates the importance of two main areas: 1) the demographics of special education diagnosis and the resulting effects, 2) the rationale for providing service to exceptional individuals...basically, why/how do we provide service for students who are 'abled' and 'differently abled'. There is a significant focus on how we can serve individuals and serve society by implementing programs to benefit all people through our approaches towards individuals who are exceptional.

"Every person is made up of many characteristics--mental as well as physical--and few want to be identified only by their ability to play tennis or by their love of fried onions or by the mole on their face. ....1. Speak of the person first, then the disability..." (PACER Center, 1989)

"The President and Congress believe that if students with disabilities were excluded from schools' accountability systems, they would be ignored and not receive the academic attention they deserved. By including students with disabilities in NCLB's accountability system, therefore, Congress made certain that schools would be held accountable for the educational performance of these students." (Yell et al., 2006)

"Do we believe that students at this school are welcoming and accepting of all forms of diversity--except disability--and that this issue is only about special education....Inclusion is about social justice. Inclusion demands that we ask, 'what kind of world do we want to create and how should we educate students for that world?" (Sapon-Shevin, 2003)

History of Special Education/ Early Intervention

Society has a long history of addressing the condition of students who are physically and cognitively different than the norm. Early on, many societies killed or cast out these people. Only recently (1800 and 1900s) have societies begun to care for and address these humans' needs.

"One of the central arguments of Disability Studies is to distinguish between two contesting frameworks--the medical/biological/pathological model commonly touted as the normative way of perceiving disability by the medical establishment and the sociocultural/political model that has been projected as a radical alternative by Disability Studies scholars and rights activists."
"The medical model...is constituted as biological insufficiency."
"On the other hand, according to the social model...the greatest limitations disabled people face are: prejudice and disability." (Erevelles & Smith, 2004)

"We are the parents of children of parents attending Cameron school for the physically handicapped students in El Cerrito, CA. For all our children's school lives, they have had little or no opportunity to interact with their non-disabled peers. Segregated education is but another form of institutionalization, which we view as extremely detrimental to the growth and development of disabled and non-disabled children alike (Hadjas, 2004)

Methods for Intervention and Addressing Students Needs

In addressing student needs, there are typical approaches (like IEPs) that all teachers must undertake. Additionally, there are separate approaches in the classroom that benefit students socio-culturally. These intervention techniques include: large-scale assessments that rely on testing and tracking, RTI models that rely on diagnostic teaching models and intervention of assistance strategies, and on SDLMS models that focus on developing agency within exceptional students.

"The Self-Determined Learning Model of Support (SDLMS) is an adapted version of the SDLMI, a teaching model designed to enable students to become more self-determined by becoming self-regulated problem-solvers....SDLMS comprises three phases, each of which leads the child through a traditional problem-solving process: (a) identify the problem, (b) identify potential solutions to the problem, (c) identify barriers to solving the problem, (d) identify consequences to each solution."
"Research shows that enhanced self-determination contributes to positive individuals quality of life outcomes. Given that individual quality of life is believed to affect family quality of life, promoting self-determination in young children may not only affect children's quality of life, but the family's as well." (Lee et al, 2006)

Resources for Understanding the Special Education Process

The legalese of special education can be a confusing labyrinth of laws and processes. Using these quotations and the sources below, parents can benefit from learning about IDEA, Section 504, their rights and more. Teachers should/must know these rules in order to perform in accordance with the laws of our profession and the resources available to teachers to assist struggling students.

"IDEA is a federal law that governs all special education services in the US...In contrast, Section 504 is a civil rights statute, rather than a federal programmatic statute; and thus, the federal government does not provide any additional funding for students identified."
"For children to be identified as eligible for services under 504, there are less specific procedural criteria governing the requirements of the school personnel. Schools may offer less assistance and monitoring with Section 504 because there are fewer regulations by the federal government...In contrast, students identified for services under IDEA must meet specific criteria and the degree of regulation is more specific in terms of time-frames, parental participation and formal paperwork requirements." (deBettancourt, 2002)

"The support of family members is vital to the success of inclusion programs...educators need to offer family education sessions that explain their inclusion programs." (Salend, 2006)

Over Representation of Minority Youth in Special Education & Tools to Avoid Mislabeling Youth

As mentioned in the social justice section, the diagnosis of special education students is imprecise. Depending on the location and environment, sometimes diagnosis of special education status is affected by the demographics of the school and of the community. Various studies indicate that African-American and Native-American students are diagnosed as 'learning disabled' at higher rates than any other group. Specifically, this occurs in environments where the faculty is white.

"Pre-referral intervention emerged during the 1970s in response to the concern about inappropriate identification and labeling of children for special education...The primary concern of all models has generally been to differentiate students with disabilities from those whose academic or behavioral difficulties reflect other factors, including inappropriate instruction."
"...four key elements of culturally and linguistically responsive pre-referral intervention: (1) Preventing School Underachievement and Failure, (2) Early Intervention for Struggling Learners, (3) Diagnostic/Prescriptive Teaching, and (4) Availability of General Education Problem-Solving Support Systems." (Garcia & Ortiz, 2006)

"African American children are twice as likely as whites to be identified for the mental retardation category. In the emotional disturbance category, black students are about half more likely than white students to be classified in this category." (Smith, 2003)

"Many African-American students ...come to school poorly prepared and not ready to learn, and are thus more likely to be placed in Special Education classes at an early age. Once there, students of color 'are less likely than their white counterparts to receive counseling and psychological supports when they first exhibit signs of emotional turmoil and often go without adequate services once identified'." (Smith, 2003)

"The data indicate that minority students are treated differently in predominantly white districts than in predominantly minority districts. Districts with predominantly black teachers, for example, have lower special education rates for all students, but particularly for African-American and Hispanic students....In our interviews, district and state officials noted great reluctance among minority parents to place students in special education."(Ladner & Hammons, 2001)


The IEP process is chock full of rules and routines. These readings are valuable in explaining the order of events and requirements for the IEP process. Read the sources cited, the quotations are less useful in understanding the process.

"Parents: You have a right to receive this notice in your primary/native language or other mode of communication...You have the right to:
*Refer your child for special education services, *Participate in any decision-making meeting regarding your child's special education program, *Participate in any individualized education program meeting about identification/eligibility or any other matters concerning your child." (LA Unified School District, 2005)

"Among the mandates of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the provision of due process for students and their parents."
"There are two aspects of due process: procedural and substantive. Procedural due process ...is following the letter of the law. These detailed requirements make it clear to all parties what must be done, by whom and when."
"Substantive due process ...is promoting the spirit of the law, or ensuring that parents are involved in their child's education." (Ludlow & Lombardi, 2004)

Learning Disability & Accommodations

Students identified as LD (learning disabled) face various unique circumstances and challenges. Teachers should become aware of the basic accommodation styles they can use and brainstorm ways to avoid modifying the task/content. Nonetheless, there are special considerations that all teachers should internalize for future use.

"Children with learning disabilities often have social difficulties in comparison with their peers. They report feelings of loneliness, isolation, and lack of fulfillment in social situations. This social isolation deepens over time, contributing to negative self-image and difficulty in social functioning at maturity." (Court & Givon, 2003)

"Assistance by the classroom teacher in helping form friendships is important, even if these friendships are not of the same quailty as naturally formed friendships. Students with any kind of friendship may feel less lonely and may experience increased self-esteem that will lead to greater overall social ease." (Court & Given, 2003)

"Use alternative ways of assessing students' strengths to determine the upper limits of their potential." (Klinger et al., 2006)

"Although statewide assessments allow many different accommodations, they fall into five basic categories: presentation, time, setting, response and aids." ( Edgemon et al, 2006)

Behavioral and Emotional Disorders & Accommodations

Teachers need to understand their students with emotional and behavioral disabilities and encourage their positive actions. At the same time, teachers must maintain their own mental health and check on their own behaviors to see how the impact the students. (Richardson, B. and Shupe, M., 2003)

Students with emotional, behavioral, and social difficulties pose major challenges to teachers and schools. These students are often under serviced and need to be tracked so that they improve over time. Response to Intervention (RTI) is implemented when the student is not improving and over time with work can create absolute changes in their behavior. (Gresham, F., 2005)

Students with ADHD tend to not stay quiet or on task so teachers need to accurately document everything the student does so that the child support team can assess the student with the necessary information. Teachers need to make the appropriate adaptations to the classroom and to their own behaviors to accommodate the student, who might be on medications to help with the focus issues. (Smith et al., 2006)

The percentage of students diagnosed with ADHD increased slightly over the years, and sometimes are combined with a learning disorder. Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD, and the diagnosis is affected by various factors such as access to health care and educational services. (Pastor, P., 2008)

Autism and related Syndromes/Communication Disorder/Accommodations

Students who have been diagnosed with autism are sometimes misdiagnosed because of teachers’ prejudice towards certain groups. So, teachers need to be aware of their prejudices to better address the needs of students with autism by learning how to adjust to their levels, taking into consideration their backgrounds, and being aware of their own prejudices.(Wilder, L., 2004)

Mental Retardation/Severe Disabilities/Accommodations

Mental retardation is described as having substandard intelligence, and while it seems objective, it is subjective because it is based on the context of the culture of power. Sometimes, it is applied to people who need a facilitator to communicate though that does not necessarily mean the person is not capable of meaningful thoughts so they should be considered competent. (Biklen, D. and Duchan, J.F., 1994)

Teachers need to create learning environments in which there is hands-on learning for students with severe disabilities. There are such activities as letting students use visuals and helping with class demonstrations. (Downing, J. and Eichinger, J, 2003)


Inclusive schools completely immerse all students in the same curriculum and eliminate the tracking system, which places students with special needs in other classes. This is said to challenge the students with learning disabilities to reach a higher expectation and that these classrooms and schools embrace diversity through a broader curriculum. Teachers participating in this type of school will need support from each other and the administration to make the curriculum effective. Parents of the students would also be part of the planning process. (Sapon-Shevin, M., 1994)

Recommending Teens for Testing

Students with special needs are now required to pass the California High School Exit Exam because the exemption that was used before expired. This was meant to not lower the expectations for students. However, the statistics still show a gap in achievement between whites and Asians on one end and African-Americans and Latinos on the other, with the latter group on the lower end. (Slater, P., 2008)

Social Justice and Disabilities

PACER Center, Inc. (1989). It's the 'person first'-then the disability.PACESETTER. September. (13)

Katsiyannas, A., Shiner, J., & Yell, M. (2006). The no child left behind act, Adequate Yearly Progress, and Students With Disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, March/April 2006; 38 (4), 32-39.

Sapon-Shevin, Mara. (2003). Inclusion: a matter of social justice. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Educational Leadership, October 2003, 27-28.

History of Special Education

Erevelles, Nirmala & Smith, Robin . (2004). Towards an enabling education: The Difference that Disability Makes. Educational Researcher, November 2004, 31-36.

Hadjas, Laurence. (2004). A concise history of special Eeducation. UCLA, Los Angeles.

Methods of Intervention for Addressing Student Needs

Lee, S-H., Palmer, S., Turnbull, A., & Wehmeyer, M. (2006) A model for parent-teacher collaboration to promote self-determination in young children with disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2006; 38 (3), 31-35.

Smith, Tom. (2002). Section 504: What teachers need to know.Intervention in School and Clinic. May 2002, 37 (5), 259-266.

Resources for Understanding the Special Education Process

deBettencourt, Laurie. (2002) Understanding the differences between IDEA and section 504. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34 (3), 16-23.

Salend, Spencer. (2006). Explaining your inclusion program to families. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38 (4), 6-11.

LA Unified School District. (2005). A Parent's Guide To Special Education Services (Including Procedural Rights and Safeguards). Los Angeles: LAUSD.

Over Representation of Minority Youth in Special Education

Garcia, Shernaz & Ortiz, Alba. (2006). Preventing disproportionate representation: cultural and linguistically representation: responsive pre-referral interventions. Teaching Exceptional Children; Mar/Apr 2006; 38 (4), 64-68.

Smith, Rosa. (2003) Race, poverty & special education: apprenticeships for prison work. Poverty & Race, Nov/Dec 2003, 1-4.

Ladner, Matthew & Hammons, Christopher. (2001). Special but unequal: race and special education. Rethinking Special Education for a New Century. Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, Washington D.C, 2001

Zhang, Dalun & Katsiyannis, Antonis. (2002). Minority representation in special education: a new challenge. Remedial and Special Education. May/June 2002, 23 (3), 180-187

The Basic Steps of IEP

Küpper, L. (2011). The basic special education process (Excerpted from Communicating with your child’s school through letter writing (Parent’s Guide 9)). Washington, DC: National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY). Available online at: http://www.nichcy.org/schoolage/steps/

Understanding the IEP Process for Parents

Culver City Unified School District & Tri-City SELPA. (2006). Parents rights and procedural safeguards: a letter to parents regarding IDEIA 2004 Guidlines. Los Angeles, Ca.

Lombardi, Thomas & Ludlow, Barbara. (2004). A short guide to special education due process. Bloomington, IN, Phi Delta Kappa Fastbacks, Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.

California Department of Education. ( 2008). Frequently asked questions about special education due process hearings and mediations.(OAH 70) Sacramento, CA.

Learning Disability/Accommodation

Mastropieri, Margo & Scruggs, Thomas. (2005). Feasibility and consequences of responses to intervention: examination of the issues and scientific evidence as a model for the identification of individuals with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities; Nov/Dec 2006, 38 (6), 525-531.

Court, Deborah & Givon, Sarah. (2003). Group intervention: improving social skills of adolescents with learning disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children; Nov/Dec 2003, 36 (2), 50-66.

Klinger, J., Artiles, A., & Mendez Barletta, L. (2006). English language learners who struggle with reading: language acquisition or 'ld'?.Journal of Learning Disabilities; Mar/Apr 2006, 39 (2), 108-128.

Edgemon, E., Jablonski, B., & Lloyd, J. (2006). Large-scale assessments: a teacher's guide to making decisions about accommodations. Teaching Exceptional Children; Jan/Feb 2006, 38 (3), 6-11.

van Garderen, Delinda & Whittaker, Catherine. (2006). Planning differentiated multicultural instruction for secondary inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children; Jan/Feb 2006, 38 (3), 12-20.

Hosp, Michele & Hosp, John. (2003). Curriculum-based measurement for reading, spelling and math:how to do it and why. Preventing School Failure; Fall 2003, 48 (1), 10-17.

Behavioral and Emotional Disorders/Accommodations

Richardson, B. and Shupe, M. “The importance of teacher self-awareness in working with students with emotional and behaviorial disorders.” Council for Exceptional Children. Teaching Exceptional Children. Nov/Dec 2003. Pgs. 8-13.

Gresham, F. (2005). “Response to intervention: An alternative means of identifying students as emotionally disturbed.” Louisiana State University. Project REACH. University of California, Riverside. Pgs. 328-344. Education & Treatment of Children. Wilson Education Abstracts

Smith et al. (2006). “Teaching students with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Teaching Students with Special Needs. Pearson Education. Pgs. 124-159.

Pastor, P. and Reuben, C. (2008), “Diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and learning disability: United states, 2004-2006.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Maryland. Pgs. 1-15.

Autism and related Syndromes/Communication Disorder/Accommodations

Wilder, L., Dyches T., Obiakor F., and Algozzine, B. (2004). “Multicultural perspectives on teaching students with autism.” Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities. Pgs. 105-113.

Mental Retardation/Severe Disabilities/Accommodations

Biklen, D. and Duchan, J.F. (1994). “’I am intelligent’: The social construction of mental retardation.” JASH. Pgs. 173-184.

Downing, J. and Eichinger, J. (2003). “Creating learning opportunities for students with severe disabilities in inclusive classrooms.” Council for Exceptional Children. Pgs. 26-31.


Sapon-Shevin, M. (1994). “Why gifted students belong in inclusive schools.” Educational Leadership. Pgs. 1-7.

Recommending Teens for Testing

Slater, P. (2008). “Schools chief jack o’connell announces California high school exit exam results for 2007-08.”