The primary objective of this unit is to sensitize both students and teachers to special education students and their needs and their rights. Many regular education students and teachers have had limited contact with special education students. They have very little understanding of the various handicaps of children with special needs. The information and activities in this unit will help Non-handicapped students get past their misconceptions and misunderstandings about children with handicaps. Teachers must help their students to understand and accept their peers with special needs. Teaching students about the various disabilities the other students have will foster an understanding of students with special needs. It is ignorance about disabilities and handicaps that breeds fear. Through education, non-handicapped students will learn to respect and understand the handicapped students as individuals.
The second objective of this unit is to help the mainstreamed child with special needs to feel comfortable, accepted and confident in his or her classroom.
The third objective of this unit is to promote positive interactions between handicapped and non-handicapped students.
Here is “A Bill of Rights for All Children,” which was given to me by Patricia Mooney, Director of the Social Integration of Special Needs Children Program in the Branford Public Schools, which I think sums up my objectives for all the students and teachers who will be involved in this curriculum unit.
A Bill of Rights for All Children Disabled or non-disabled
All children have the right
—to succeed, as well as fail, as there are important lessons in both
—to encouragement of his strengths, not the indulgence of his weaknesses
—to full and varied life experiences, whether they bring laughter or tears
—to have his needs met, get his potential challenged, so he may continue to grow and find joy in achievement
—to grow up in a world which does not set him apart, which looks at him, not with scorn or pity or ridicule, but which welcomes him, exactly as it welcomes every child, and offers him many privileges and responsibilities
I will have one teaching strategy for educating teachers and another strategy for educating students.
First, I will give the teachers a definition of six handicaps, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, blindness and acute visual impairment, deafness and hearing impairment, learning disability, and emotional disturbance.
Mental retardation means that a person’s ability to learn new things is slower or “retarded” compared with the abilities of most people. Most people who are retarded have been retarded from birth. Sometimes mentally retarded people will look and act differently from others their own age. Downs Syndrome retarded people typically have slanted eyes and teeth and tongues that stick out more than they should. And sometimes a retarded person will have trouble walking, holding things, eating or playing a game. Because it is harder for them to learn, a retarded person may take longer to learn correct manners or the right words for things. And, sometimes children the same age have trouble understanding why the retarded person is doing something that doesn’t seem quite right. There are some people who are severely retarded and may never learn. These people may live in an institution or hospital so that they can be taken care of. In the past, almost all retarded people were placed away from their families and friends, in institutions. Years ago, people didn’t know that retarded people could learn to do many things. Now retarded people get special training. They live on their own, work, shop, and have fun.
Cerebral palsy means that the messages from the brain to the legs or to the mouth or to the hands, etc. are not complete. It’s a little like a short circuit. It’s hard for many people with cerebral palsy to talk, but it’s important to remember that their slow, difficult speech doesn’t mean that they are retarded. Most people with cerebral palsy can do many things and most learn as quickly as anyone else. When a person with cerebral palsy moves in an unusual way, it is because she/he can’t control where an arm or leg will go next. These spastic motions make it hard to hold a pencil or a spoon, or to be neat when eating or playing. “Spastic” is s kind of cerebral palsy.
Some people are legally blind or totally blind. A person who is legally blind can still have some usable eyesight. A person who is legally blind may use large print books. Some people are almost totally blind. Some children are born blind or become blind as a result of an accident or illness. Many blind people can see some shadows and colors but they cannot see enough to read, to drive or to get around without help. Most blind people have training in walking and reading Braille. Many blind people work at interesting jobs, swim, ski, marry and have
A person who is hearing impaired can be either deaf or hard of hearing. There are two different kinds of hearing loss. One kind is called a decibel loss and that means that the person hears all sounds much more softly than a person with normal hearing does. Or, a person can have a frequency loss. “Frequency” means the pitch of a sound, so with a frequency loss, you would hear some pitches better than others. Because our language is made up of high and low pitches sounds, a person with a frequency loss would hear all of some words, some parts of some words, and would miss some words altogether. A deaf person could inherit a hearing loss. Deafness can also be the result of accident or a disease. Some deaf children are taught only to use sign language, while others are taught only to lip read. Some combine signing, lip reading and their own voices. This is called “total communication.”
When a child has a learning disability, it means that she/he has trouble learning some of the things that children learn in school. A person with a learning disability might have difficulty with reading, writing, mathematics, or spelling. Some children with learning disabilities have trouble remembering what they see, paying attention, sitting still, or making other people understand what they mean. Although many types of learning disabilities are connected with problems in the message center of the body, the brain, children with learning disabilities are not mentally retarded. In fact, many learning disabled children are very intelligent but because of their special learning problems, don’t do very well in school. For example, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb and the phonograph (among other things) was taken out of school because his parents and teacher thought he couldn’t learn. Albert Einstein, the brilliant scientist, was very good at math, but failed his college entrance tests. Learning disabled children are not slow to learn. Instead, they learn in different ways.
The term emotional disturbance has been used to cover a wide range of emotional problems and behavior disorders. Children who are considered to be emotionally disturbed can be divided into two groups: those children who are over inhibited and those who are underinhibited. Children who are over inhibited tend to be withdrawn, unable to participate actively in everyday life, and seem not to have as much fun as other children. Problems of these children affect primarily their learning ability and development. Children who are under inhibited, on the other hand, tend to lack the self control necessary for comfortable relationships with the rest of society. A major issue in the mental health field is deciding the criteria for judging when children should be considered emotionally disturbed.
Next, I will involve the teachers in simulations of the various handicaps. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that describes the effect of these simulations, “Tell me . . . I forget, Show me . . . I remember, Involve me...I understand.”
The first simulation the group will participate in is how it feels to be retarded and how retarded people learn. I will give an index card to each student. I will ask each person to place the index card at her/his forehead. I will then direct each person, keeping the card on her/his forehead, to quickly write the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. When they have finished, I will have them look at their work and share it with the others in the group. I will explain to the group participants that the reactions they had to their work and their feelings about it should help them understand how a retarded person feels when she/he is learning slower than others. Sometimes a retarded person will try as hard as she/he can but it won’t come out in right. Then, I will ask the group participating to choose a partner and work in pairs, trying to help each other learn to write the numbers while keeping the cards at their foreheads. Allow teachers to guide their partner’s hands, to draw in the air, to fold the cards for spacing, etc. Anything goes, as long as they work together. At the end of ten minutes, working time, ask the children if any of them improved and what they and their partners did: to foster that improvement. Have partners share their experiences with the group. I will ask the group participants the following questions: What was hardest about this activity? What made it easier? Did you ever feel like giving up? Why and when? Did you and your partner improve? Why did you think you did? Did you work out any plan that made this number writing easier? What did you do? Based on the answers and reactions of the teachers to the above questions, I will explain that people who work with retarded children often try to help them in this way. When someone is slow to learn, it often helps to break a task into smaller, easier steps so that the retarded person can master the task in manageable pieces. Certainly, retarded children don’t learn how to write numbers on cards at their foreheads! But we did this activity today so that you would get a feeling about what being retarded feels like and how frustrated a retarded person might become when she/he is doing something that should be easy, but seems so hard to do. I will explain that if partners were successful at this kind of number writing, it probably was because they broke the activity into tiny steps. They may have worked on one number at a time, or on spacing, or on reversing. And when they solved one problem, they moved on to another. I will point out that when they took it one step at a time, it was easier to do. I will remind them that when they work with a student who is retarded, to remember that if the person is not doing something well, it’s not because the retarded person is “stupid” or “crazy.” It may be that the activity needs to be broken down into smaller steps so that the retarded student can master them one at a time.
The next simulation activity I will do with the teachers is one that will help them understand what it’s like to have cerebral palsy. I will give each member of the group two pairs of thick socks and a large flannel shirt. I will ask the teachers to group themselves in pairs and ask one member of each pair to put two thick socks on each hand. I will explain that they will experience what it is like to have cerebral palsy. I will ask one member of each pair of teachers to try to button a shirt. They will do this without any talking or laughing. I will give a signal and allow the teachers to put a shirt on, button it, unbutton it, then sit down facing their partner. I will have each pair exchange materials and repeat the experiment. The group will then discuss the following questions: How did it feel to button the shirt with socks on your hands? What was easy about the task and what was hard? How did it feel to have your partner watching you? Did you ever feel like giving up? When and why? Did you ever feel like laughing? Why or why not? I will talk with the group about their feelings and observations during the activity. I will explain that the rigidity that they felt in their arms and fingers is very much like the rigid muscles that most people with cerebral palsy have. It is very hard for them to relax their muscles and many people with cerebral palsy need help to get their muscles to relax. A physical therapist helps the person with CP to be less stiff and uses games and activities to help them flex their muscles. I will talk with the teachers about their attitude toward this disability. How did they feel being observed while performing in this manner? Discuss with the group how it feels to
be observed and/or even laughed at when you are trying as hard as you can.
To allow the teachers in this group to experience speaking with a speech impairment, I will ask each teacher to think of a story, poem, song etc. and to jot their selection on paper. I will group the teachers into fours and explain to them that they are about to simulate what it’s like to have a speech problem and that they will have the opportunity to practice what it feels like to have a speech problem. I will tell the teachers that they will say their poem or rhyme to the rest of the group but they will speak with their tongues pressed behind their bottom teeth. Have one person say her/his selection, simulating impaired speech. The other members in the group listen until she/ he is finished. The others guess what has been said. If they guess incorrectly, the speaker repeats her/his selection. If the others still cannot discern what has been said, the child tells the other members of the group. The teachers continue in this manner until each one has had a chance to practice impaired speech. When all of the groups have completed this activity, I will list the following questions on the board and have the teachers think about them individually: How did you feel as the speaker? How did you feel as the listener? Was it easier for you to be the speaker or the listener? This activity is a very difficult one, yet I feel it is a very necessary one for teachers as they broaden their understanding of cerebral palsy. It is important that they examine the activity from the perspective of both speaker and listener, since impaired speech affects both persons. Explain that there is a common misconception that persons with CP are retarded because they speak so slowly and with such great difficulty. I would ask group members to consider how a person with CP might feel when treated in this manner. The role of listener is a difficult one, too. Teachers may share feelings like, “I was really relieved when someone in my group guessed what she was saying. I was glad I didn’t have to listen anymore.” Or, “I really had trouble looking at him when he was talking that way.” I will point out that sometimes the listener has as much or more difficulty with the handicap than the disabled person.
Next, I will guide the group in activities that simulate what it’s like to be blind. I will give half of the group masks with black tape covering the eye holes of the masks. I will divide the teachers into pairs and explain that each person will have the opportunity to be both the blind person and the helper. I will give out a copy of the following directions to each pair of teachers: One person from each pair is the blind person, and she/he wears the mask. The other person is the helper. If you are the helper, take your partner around the room. Go in and out and all around the chairs, desks, and tables. Take the blind person into the hall and get a drink of water from the fountain. Return to your seats and switch roles. Try to remember to ask your partner which is the best way for you to help. The sighted partner must stay with the blind partner at all times. When this activity has been completed, the group will discuss the following questions: How did you feel as the blind person? Did you find that you were more aware of how things felt and/or did you listen more carefully? How did you feel as the helper? As the helper, what were some of the things you did that were very helpful? Does your partner agree? If you were the blind person first, did that experience affect how you helped later on? What was the most comfortable way for you and your blind partner to work together? Was it harder for you to be the blind person or the helper? Explain your choice. Explain to the group participants that this experience is called “mobility training.” Special teachers work with blind children teaching them to move around in comfortable ways. Often blind children work with sighted persons, especially since sighted people must learn how to help a blind person, too.
The next simulation will allow teachers to learn about the mobility of blind people. Using the same masks, and a long stick, such as a dowel or yard stick as a cane. I will give one “cane” to each group of four participants. I will divide the teachers into groups of four, designating one person as the blind person, one as the helper, and two teachers as observers. I will demonstrate to the group the use of a white cane. Hold the stick out in front of you and swing it from side to side in a small arc as you walk forward. I will ask for one volunteer to stand in front of me as I grasp his right elbow and we will walk together. Tell the teachers that they should walk in pairs in this manner. With one teacher wearing the mask and using the “cane,” and another as the helper, I will select a prescribed or a random route for them to negotiate. I will direct the observers to watch for instances where the cane proved helpful to the user. When the groups have returned, I will discuss the following with them: To the blind person: Tell how the cane helped you. What things were you able to feel with your cane? To the helper: Tell how the cane helped you. Did you feel more relaxed because your partner used the cane? Why or why not? To the observers: How did the person use the cane? How confident or timid was she/he? Had you been the blind person, would you have used the cane any differently? Some blind people say that their cane gives them confidence. Why do you think they say that? When used properly (that is, when the cane is held in front and moved from side to side) white canes can be extremely helpful for blind people. If you were blind, would you want a white cane? If you had one, how would you use it?
The next simulation I will do with the teachers is to give each member of the group a piece of wax paper to see the world as a blind person would. No they don’t see black.
Next, I will have the group do a simulation to help the teachers understand what it is like to be deaf. This activity will help members of the group to learn that visual cues are essential to a deaf person in processing information. I will show the group a short action-packed film, with the sound off. As the group watches the film, I will note their reactions, such as restlessness, inattention, tension, talking, etc. Then, we will watch the film again with the sound turned on. When the film is over, I will divide the group into groups of four. I will have them read the following questions, write their own individual answers, then share answers with the group: What was the movie about? How were you able to tell? What things gave the plot away to you? What did you miss by not being able to hear? The entire group will discuss the following: How did you feel watching a film with the sound turned off? What were the best clues in the film that helped you to know what was going on? Was the film ever confusing for you? When and why? Do you think deaf people watch a lot of television or go to a lot of movies? Have you seen any television shows or movies that a deaf person might like and get a lot out of? What sorts of things might help a deaf person understand a television program or movie better? (Sign language from a friend, lip reading, signing on TV, captions at the bottom of the screen, subtitles, etc.) Explain to the teachers that deaf persons use their eyes to integrate things in the world around them. They watch carefully to learn what is going on. Deafness is an isolating handicap and it is difficult for a deaf person to include her/himself in an active group of people. I will discuss the role of television in our lives and the effect that this medium has on deaf people. In early 1979, two of the major commercial television networks, NBC-TV and ABC-TV, added a printed caption line to many of their programs, expressly for deaf viewers. Using a special decoder, which the deaf person must purchase and attach to her/his television, he or she can see a line of print which explains the action on the screen. This decoder cost about three hundred dollars.
The next handicap we will simulate is how it feels to be learning disabled. The objective of this simulation is to allow the teachers to experience the visual difficulties many LD children face when learning to read. I will distribute to each teacher one copy of “The Friembly Bog” (A copy of this story will be included in the lesson plans following.) The story is made up of many misspelled words. It is very difficult to make sense out of the story. I will group the teachers into fours and select two members of each group to read the story aloud. I will write down comments such as, “The spelling is all wrong!” “This is too hard!” “I don’t want to do this!” I will also make note of the reactions of the listeners, i.e., those not selected to read aloud. I will make special note of their relief at not having to read aloud and their embarrassment at having to listen to someone read in so halting a fashion, with so many mistakes. Next I will read the “translation” of the story out loud. (The translation of this story will also be included in the lesson plans following.) I will write the following questions on the board and have the group participants answer each individually: How did you feel when you saw the story? How did you feel having to read it aloud? How did you feel as you heard your classmate read? How would you feel if all your schoolwork looked this way to you? Ask the teachers to share their answers to the above questions. Ask them to pinpoint specific problems in the story (e.g., the confusion among the p, the b, and the d.) Many students with learning disabilities have trouble reading because they cannot discriminate, or tell the difference, among the letters. Although they are teachers, they still had trouble with the story. Many children who are learning disabled are bright too, but have many problems when it comes to reading. I will discuss with the teachers how it might feel to have these problems daily. What could teachers do to be more understanding?
All of these simulations that I will present to teachers can be taken back to the classroom and used with the students. I plan to use these simulation exercises in my classroom. These exercises will be very effective and promote understanding and acceptance.
Next, I will present my strategy for teaching my classroom unit. The first week of my unit will be devoted to the simulations that I have described in the previous section as a means of sensitizing regular education teachers to those students in their classrooms with disabilities.
During the second week of my unit I plan to invite Mrs. Patricia Mooney, who is the Director of Social Integration in the Branford Schools to do a presentation to my class. The Social Integration of Special Needs Children project is an integration program for handicapped and non-handicapped students. Mrs. Mooney does a puppet show with “The Kids on the Block” puppets. “The Kids on the Block” are child sized puppets which represent children with disabilities and differences. This puppet show encourages students to learn more about persons with disabilities and to appreciate these differences as examples of life’s diversity which enhance us all. “The Kids on the Block” puppets were developed in 1977 by nationally recognized educator Barbara Aiello. “The Kids on the Block” were a direct response to U.S. Public Law 94-142 (sometimes called “the mainstreaming law”). Within its guidelines, disabled children were given the opportunity to be educated alongside nondisabled children in regular schools and regular classrooms across the country. Inevitably, there were questions and concerns: “How are you going to understand the teacher if you’re deaf?” “Does having a learning disability mean you’re retarded?” “How did your parents feel when they found out that you’d never be able to walk?” “The Kids on the Block” puppets respond with clarity and candor to these and hundreds of other questions asked by the schoolchildren who participate in the program. Mrs. Mooney’s “Kids on the Block” are Renaldo Rodriguez, Mark Riley, Ellen Jane Peterson, Jimmy Randolph, Jennifer Hauser, and Mandy Puccini. Renaldo Rodriguez is eleven years old. He has been blind since birth. He was supposed to be born at Christmas but instead he was born at Halloween. Because he was so small when he was born, the doctors put him in an incubator. They didn’t realize then that if they gave a baby too much oxygen that it would damage his eyes, but that’s what happened. Now Renaldo can tell the difference between light and dark, and the outline of some very large shapes. His glasses help him to see the outline of these really big things. Renaldo is quick to tell people that he can do the same things sighted people can do but in a different way. For example, he can play baseball with a special beeper ball, or checkers with square and round checkers, and he has a special system to match his clothes. Renaldo has a great sense of humor and a healthy positive attitude about his disability. Mark Riley is eleven years old, and has been mainstreamed this year into the regular fifth grade. Mark has cerebral palsy and for the first years of his education he went to a special school but now Mark is ready for the regular school. Because Mark has cerebral palsy he does not have sufficient motor control to write with a regular pencil. He writes with either a large pencil or one with a special pencil grip. Sometimes he dictates his written work onto a cassette tape and gives that to the teacher. Mark explains, “My muscles don’t work too good so I can’t walk and I can’t talk too good either.” When people use words like “victim” and “confined”, Mark assures them that the only time he was confined to his wheelchair was when a girl poured glue onto his cruiser’s seat. Mark sees his cruiser as an extension of himself and a large part of his identity, and often mentions that the invention of the wheelchair was a very liberating thing for disabled people. Mark has a twin brother, Michael, who is not disabled and a little sister. Mark says that “Having CP isn’t so bad. It’s much worse being a twin!” Ellen Jane is twenty-one and one half years old. She is very proud of the fact that she works at the Valley Animal Hospital as the helper. When asked of she wants to be the vet someday, Ellen Jane unabashedly reveals that “I could never be the vet because I’m retarded.” When asked what kind of retardation she has, Ellen Jane explains that she has Downs Syndrome: “When I feel sad sometimes, I tell my mom that I have my ups and my downs!” Ellen Jane went to a special school for her elementary school but in high school she attended a regular school. She was in a work study program, which is how she received her job at the animal hospital. Ellen Jane met her boyfriend on a bowling team. He is also retarded. He works for the government running a copying machine. She has a younger brother who is nine years old. He is a much better reader than Ellen Jane, which sometimes frustrates her. Jimmy Randolph is a twelve year old boy who demonstrates the more volatile and acting out behavior of an emotionally disturbed child. When Jimmy’s parents and teachers realized that he had an emotional problem, Jimmy was placed in a resource room in his school. Jimmy attends counseling sessions with a therapist. Jimmy is sometimes defensive about his meetings at the Mental Health Center but he talks with his friends about what he does there and the help his counselor gives him and his parents. Other children have a difficult time understanding Jimmy. Since his behavior is quite inconsistent they don’t know how to react to Jimmy. At times he is friendly and at other times he is distant and verbally abusive. The fact that “Kids on the Block” are puppets allows for a unique and effective brand of communication especially since children are often reticent to interact freely with adults. Puppetry is a powerful medium. Both children and adults can learn an attitude of understanding, warmth, and sensitivity that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
On the following pages I will include lesson plans for follow up activities which will help the children understand more about various handicaps and will help handicapped and non-handicapped children integrate.