Students with Multiple Disabilities

Here is part of an assignment I had for my Understanding Exceptional Individuals course. Check out the text or one of its earlier editions. It’s a fascinating read, and this has been my favorite course of the semester.

It’s taxing, if not impossible, to make one IEP plan for every student with multiple disabilities because of the variety of difficulties and levels of functioning. In Chapter 10 of Turnbull’s text, there is great difference between Sierra Smith, whose greatest problem is self-mutilation and attention-grabbing, and Joshua Spoor, who must use a computer and a customized wheelchair to communicate and move. Students with multiple disabilities may struggle with adaptive skills, motor development, sensory functioning, and/or communication skills (Turnbull, 2010, p.274-275). How does a teacher handle the education of a student with multiple disabilities? The teacher treats them as a unique individual, but a unique individual with strengths to be accentuated. 

MAP’s, which are “making action plans,” can help students with their individual needs, but they rely on the IEP team’s dedication. “During the MAP’s planning process, parents, family, friends, and teachers discuss the individual’s strengths and challenges” (Turnbull, 2010, p. 279). The student also provides insight, which grants the student responsibility and ownership in their learning. Based off the collected information, a proper IEP can be tailored for the student. The student can lead in areas that they excel in, whereas they can be given assistance in areas where they struggle the most.

One method that can accentuate a student’s strengths and help with a student’s weaknesses is peer tutoring. If a student struggles with a subject, a peer can assist the student’s learning process by reading to him or her, re-explaining the material, or answering questions. However, “relying too much on students without disabilities to support their classmates who do have disabilities might lead to relationships that tend to be one-way rather than reciprocal” (Turnbull, 2010, p.281). One way to amend this is to allow the disabled student to tutor his or her peers in a subject that he or she excels at. Another option is to ensure that the disabled student and the other students have more than a helper-helpee relationship. Peers should be encouraged to develop friendships with the disabled student.

Another way to include students with multiple disabilities in the classroom is to react appropriately to displays of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. If the student misbehaves in class, encourage proper behavior by providing rewards and compliments for appropriate behavior. Peers should be involved and know to give the disabled student cues and compliments when appropriate behavior is displayed. If the student uses technology to communicate, the teacher should learn how the technology works and what to do if it malfunctions. The student cannot perform well in class if the teacher makes no effort to understand how the student’s technological aids function.

Some students, like Sierra, struggle with alertness and need extra sleep due to their disability. In this case, the improper response is to exclude the student by focusing on the attentive students alone. A teacher would not – one would hope – do this with students without disabilities. The teacher should “use times of alertness to teach self-instruction strategies to enable him to engage in more proactive learning” (Turnbull, 2010, p.291). The teacher should also enlist peers to encourage the disabled student to use those strategies in class.

Turnbull, Ann P., Turnbull, H. Rutherford III, & Wehmeyer, Michael L. (2010). Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today’s Schools. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. Merrill. 

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One Response to Students with Multiple Disabilities

  1. Amazing, kinda awesome subject. I will write about it too!!

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