Neurological Disorders in the Classroom
Neurological disabilities include a wide range of disorders, such as epilepsy, learning disabilities, neuromuscular disorders, autism, ADD, brain tumors, and cerebral palsy, just to name a few. Some neurological conditions are congenital, emerging before birth. Other conditions may be caused by tumors, degeneration, trauma, infections or structural defects. Regardless of the cause, all neurological disabilities result from damage to the nervous system. Depending on where the damage takes place, determines to what extent communication, vision, hearing, movement and cognition are impacted.
Given the wide range of disorders, the educational needs of each child with a neurological disorder will be unique. If a child has been diagnosed with a disorder prior to the age of three, he will greatly benefit from Early Intervention (EI) services. Through EI, the child can receive Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT), speech, or other services that the EI team deem to be appropriate.
A few months prior to the child's third birthday, EI will begin the referral process to the Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE). The CPSE will identify the child as a "Preschooler with a Disability" and develop an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) which will most likely contain similar services as those offered by EI. If the child was not receiving EI services, a referral can be made to the CPSE by the parent, a doctor, or someone else who knows the child well.
Once the child becomes school age, a referral needs to be made to the Committee on Special Education (CSE). A thorough evaluation will be conducted, including information regarding the child's social, emotional, physical and academic levels and needs. In some cases, an outside evaluation by a psychiatrist might be requested by the school or the parent. The CSE will then determine if there is a handicapping condition. In many cases "other health impaired" will be the category the child is identified under.
The next responsibility of the CSE is to write the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). This plan needs to address weaknesses targeted by the evaluation, along with any other concerns expressed at the CSE tabled. While developing the IEP, the CSE should take into consideration the following questions:
- To what extent can the child be placed in the general education setting?
- What curriculum modifications or adaptations are needed? (i.e. modified worksheets, safety scissors)
- Are there needs for assistive technology?
- Is Adaptive Physical Education (APE) needed?
- Is there a need for a 1:1 aide?
- Will the child's disorder worsen over time?
- Is there a need for teacher resources, in-service training, etc.?
- Is the child apt to miss a fair amount of school due to doctor appointments or illness?
- Will the child need to receive treatments from the nurse on a daily basis?
- Are there behavioral concerns?
- Are there techniques that work well with the child? (i.e. rubrics, task analysis, applied behavior analysis)
- What are the social needs of the child?
As stated earlier, each child diagnosed with a neurological disorder is unique in terms of his strengths and needs. The CSE needs to ensure that the child is being provided with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) by writing an appropriate IEP and including the child in the general education setting when appropriate.