Teaching Children With Disabilities

Teaching children with disabilities can be a rewarding experience. Find out how these children learn to communicate.

Each year there are almost 130,000 babies born in the United States with some degree of mental retardation. About 3% of the population are intellectually impaired.

The definitions of mental retardation are many. Most of them are correct definition because they cover some parts of the conditions. According to the American Association on Mental Deficiency, retardation is "a group of conditions which renders the individual unable to compete in ordinary society because of incomplete development." In easier terms this means that mental retardation is the result of an injury or disease of the brain that takes place before, during, or after birth.

Pediatricians say that 90% of mental impairment occurs in the prenatal stage. Genetic defects in endocrine functioning, blood incompatibilities, and virus type illnesses in pregnant woman are all suspected of contributing to mental disability.

Injury at birth also can cause brain damage. An example of this can be when oxygen is cut off during the birth process.

When this happens some of the brain cells are killed. If the brain cells that are killed are those that control intelligence, mental development will be incomplete.

Postnatal causes of retardation will fall into one of these three groups:

1.) Acute illness

2.) Traumatic events

3.) Progressive Disorders (not recognized at an early age)

Any illness that is accompanied by a long lasting high fever can be a cause for brain damage. Severe head injuries and convulsions can also lead to brain damage.

Mental impairment is a very broad category that includes people who fiction at several different levels of efficiency. This can mean that both intelligence and physical growth can be affected to some degree.

There are several factors that contribute to the classification of an intellectually impaired person. Of course, not everyone is in agreement with how classifying should be done. Because of this there are several different national organizations that use different ways of classification.

The American Association on Mental Deficiency makes it classifications based on five category:






The American Psychiatric Association classifies based on three groups:




Mild would indicate an IQ in the 75 to 85 range. Moderate would be those in the 50 to 75 range. Severe would be IQ's from 0 to 50.

The National Association for Retarded Children states that this should be the classification:

Marginal dependent (educate)

Semi-dependent (trainable)

Dependent (Nursing or custodial)

The mentally handicapped can be identified by a set of mental, physical, social, and emotional characteristics. Each person does not have each characteristic. Each one will have some degree of learning problems. They will have poor language communication skills, physical handicaps, and illness, lack of motivation, limited experiences, and behavior problems.

Trainable Retarded

Physical: Could have and oddly shaped skull, cerebral palsy, growth abnormalities in weight and in height, odd facial and body mannerisms, and unusual emotionsl states. Many may have a lack of muscle tone. They will also be subject to epilepsy.

Mental: Poor reasoning, ineffective use of language, low levels of concentration, a lack of motivation, not much

imagination or creativity. Their IQ's are usually between 30 and 50. You will find that their academic ability is one half that of the average persons.

Social: Are more like children of equal mental age than in chronological age.

Emotional: They are most often quiet and introverted. At times they can be loud and physically offensive.

Educable Retarded

Physical: They can physically look like any normal child. They will have poorer motor skills and will have more sight,

speech, and hearing problems.

Mental: These children will have poor reasoning abilities. There IQ's will be from 50 to 75.

Social: These children will be able to go to school with "normal" children. They can really benefit from community activities.

Emotional: Many will suffer from depression because of their inability to be like others.

Researchers have found that the mentally impaired learn by a process that is much different from that of a person who is not disabled. Normally developing people learn by reacting to their environment. They learn through sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. In the mentally impaired, brain damage makes them unable to do this.

Along with a dull sensory perception, these children have limited use of logic and reasoning. When there is not logic, reasoning, or thought building process involved they will probably do very well.

Another adjustment will be the language that the teacher uses. They must be very conscious of what they are saying. The intellectually impaired students learning abilities will depend on how much of what is being said is understood.

A mentally handicapped child should not be expected to wait with their questions. Their learning must be immediate and spontaneous. A disabled child must practice even minor tasks before they can do them well. Teachers should let them distribute papers, supplies, and books. They should then reward students who have completed the tasks given to them. Nothing should go unrecognized.

The success of teaching the intellectually impaired is totally reliant on the ability of the teacher. The teacher must have patience and respect for human need, plus a love for the student who is "different."

Story telling is one of the worlds oldest forms of expression. Most mentally handicapped children love to hear stories. They help to bring alive their imaginations. Stories will help to mold ideas.

Whatever a teacher tells the trainable child, he/she will accept as true. The child cannot determine between what is real and what is a story.

Those who are teaching the intellectually impaired should use a great deal of visual aids. Talking alone will not give a clear picture to the mentally handicapped. Children can cut figures from magazines to make their own visual stories.

Puppetry is also great for the handicapped child. It helps them to become members of a group and to adjust socially to other children. With the use of puppets, the child can take on a new identity. Puppetry can also help the teacher to understand any of the child's behavior problems. The puppets can be used to tell a story, sing a song, or even get a child to cooperate.

The teacher needs to pick the crafts for the intellectually impaired very carefully. Each one should serve a purpose. Each one should be a reinforcement to the lesson that is being taught.

Twenty years ago there were virtually no classes for the intellectually impaired. Today, educators recognize this a a long needed thing and are opening their arms and their hearts to these children. It is an open door that will change lives forever. Parents and families of the mentally impaired will be forever strengthened just knowing that someone cares.

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