Special Education: Then and Now

March 11, 2019

     The road traveled for those going through disabilities is certainly a rough one and it also poses challenges for those that are close to them and take care of them. However, it was arguably more difficult in the past for individuals with disabilities.  In the thousands of years before the 1800s, individuals with disabilities usually faced “…exploitation, exclusion, expulsion, and in some cases, execution.” (Spaulding and Pratt, 2015).  Students with disabilities were often hidden from the view of the public due to criticisms and with less scientific knowledge about specific disabilities.

     During the first half of the nineteenth century, people were starting to understand some of these disabilities and started some training, teaching, and institutions for such individuals.  However, in the late 1800s and through the first half of the twentieth century, individuals with disabilities were generally again cast aside from society (Spaulding and Pratt, 2015).  From the 1950s to today, we have undergone significant changes through laws and social philosophy that has led us to the special education programs we have now in the U.S.

     Many of the changes in the U.S. for policies and treatment of people with disabilities happened before I was born in the 1980s, however many of these changes were not very long ago.  As Spaulding and Pratt suggest, most reforms for special education are from the 1960s and 1970s and are very “young” (2015).  One of the most famous and influential changes comes from the court case regarding Brown v. Board of Education.  This case “…extended equal protection under the law to the minorities” and paved the way for individuals with disabilities (The History of Special Education, 2002).  This helped create less segregated schools and many young people with disabilities that only had the options to go to an institution or stay home were given a third choice; being included in schools.  

     The Civil Rights movement in the 60s and 70s was one of the biggest reforms in philosophy, policy, and funding in the last century.  The law of special education both “…defines civil rights for a class protected persons and establishes a funding stream for programs and services to support those persons” (Aron and Loprest, 2012).  Two of the major recent laws that affect us today are No Child Left Behind (NCLB) from 2002 which focuses on high standards and staff accountability along with the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) from 1990 which is the modified and reauthorized version of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) from 1975.  These laws continue to change but have two major parts currently, which are providing children with a free and appropriate public education in a least restrictive environment with inclusion.  

    Another factor to consider is behavior of students with disabilities.  Morgan et. al. describes how students with disabilities aren’t suspended from school any more than students in general education (2019).  Although students with disabilities aren’t suspended anymore than other students, studies show that students with disabilities could improve with their behavior.  Oldfield et. al say that “[s]tudents with special education needs and disabilities…are more likely to exhibit behaviour difficulties than their typically developing peers” (2017).  Although some hurdles exist, it is still a great cause to work alongside students that are different and exhibit more difficulties opposed to removing them.