Often met with an ambiguous definition, the umbrella term of ‘special needs education’ broadly identifies the academic, physical, cognitive and social-emotional instructions offered to children who are faced with one or more disabilities based on their developmental stage, skill level, interest and ability rather than biological age.
A student’s special needs education eligibility is determined through a process of evaluations by professionals/specialists like school psychologists, special educators and social workers. As the purview of special education is increasing manifold so also is the role and responsibilities of a special education professional.
However, it is a sad reality that many in our society use the term ‘tuition teacher’ and ‘special needs educator’ interchangeably. Although, it is understandable that it is due to lack of awareness. In a school set-up, special needs educators are instrumental in providing the right kind of intervention to address the individual needs of these special children. Their role begins early on, from the process of early detection, screening and planning, and goes on to monitoring, tracking, reviewing and documenting the progress made.
Early screening is one of the first and foremost responsibilities of special education professionals. They do this by spreading awareness and vigilance by conducting regular workshops and seminars for all those who are working closely with the students, like parents and teachers, so that they can understand and report any warning signs and symptoms of difficulty early on.
This role of a special needs educator is to ensure that the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is reviewed quarterly/half yearly or yearly and is discussed with the regular teachers, parents and the representatives from school administrations to assess the academic and developmental progress objectives set for a child with a disability.
They must regularly administer skills tests and other assessments to determine and monitor the progress of special needs students. A special education student’s Individualised Education Plan (IEP) may contain accommodation, which can be removed from the IEP at the next review, based on the progress of the students and to ascertain if new accommodations should be added. The special needs educator should regularly communicate with parents and with those involved in the child’s education, about the child’s needs and progress. Documentation is a critical part of special education teachers to record their adhering to the accommodations laid out in a student’s IEP’s. They do this by preparing and updating progress trackers, feedback forms and the preserving the test results.
Thus, a special needs educator ensures not only that the needs of the special children are catered to, but also upholds and protects the rights of such children always, as per the guidelines issued by the authorities. These professions can’t be classified as just any other teacher.
- The reader is a special needs professional based in Sharjah.