The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires all public schools to provide free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to eligible children with disabilities. IDEA ensures children with disabilities have access to the general education curriculum taught in general classrooms. Moreover, IDEA states that the education of children with disabilities can be more effective by:
“Supporting high-quality, intensive preservice preparation and professional development for all personnel who work with children with disabilities in order to ensure that such personnel have the skills and knowledge necessary to improve the academic achievement and functional performance of children with disabilities, including the use of scientifically based instructional practices, to the maximum extent possible”.
As stated in IDEA, children with disabilities can learn the general education curriculum in classrooms with general education teachers; therefore, educators play an important role in developing the skills of all students. Dr. Lindee Morgan, Assistant Professor at Emory University told Emory News, “General education teachers in most states aren’t required to have autism training… and yet they find themselves with kids with autism because that’s the law.
Dr. Morgan was the co-principal investigator of a study conducted by Emory University and Florida State University that analyzed the effectiveness of general education teachers who received special education training compared to those who did not. According to Emory News, the researchers found that students affected by autism in kindergarten through second-grade were better at communicating and getting along when their teachers had special training compared to their peers whose teachers did not have special education coaching.
Take a look at a few of the responses they received:
“’My program had one class specifically geared for this. It was called Students with Exceptionalities.’ – University of Michigan, 2009’”
“’I took one class … it was approximately six weeks long. It was just a lecture format, with multiple choice tests no practicum component.’ – Eastern Michigan University, 2010”
“’I had some general courses in college, but nothing to make it adequate. There needs to be more, specifically with autism or defiance disorders.’ – Michigan State University, 2011”
“’I had one course on special education and how to differential lessons and modify them to meet students’ needs.’ – University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2008”
Listeners shared their experiences once they started teaching in classrooms with some students affected by autism:
“’Other than being given an IEP when I have a new special-ed student, I receive no special training. The IEP is usually very vague and not helpful at all.’ – Thomas Lhamon”
“’No one explains how challenging and emotionally hard it can be to balance the needs of some students with the needs of the rest of your class. Although I have found ways to educate myself and work hard to meet the needs of every student, I think that it would have been helpful to have more information and practice working with students with special needs before I got certified.’”
“’I think the classes given were as much as could have been done to help prepare me ahead of time. Much of the learning … is a result of trying things out. Over time you develop a toolbox of what works.’”
The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports that a majority of students with disabilities spend most of their day in general education classrooms. The National Center for Learning Disabilities is advocating for stronger special education requirements for teacher preparation programs to be included in the Higher Education Act, which Congress will reauthorize this summer.