Secondary Health Educators' Perceived Self-Efficacy in Teaching Mainstreamed Mentally Disabled Students

Article excerpt

Healthy People 2000 proposes many objectives which could be met through widespread comprehensive health education including the topical areas of nutrition, tobacco use, drug and alcohol use and abuse, human sexuality, violence, safety, HIV/AIDS, and physical activity.[1] It is imperative that discussion of the national objectives and health status of the nation's youth not ignore special needs students. Several authors[2,3] contend that with passage of Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, the trend toward inclusion and mainstreaming of the special needs child, including movement into the health education classroom, will continue.

For this study, the special needs student addressed was the mainstreamed mildly handicapped student often labeled mentally disabled, educable mentally handicapped, mildly retarded, or learning disabled. These students display general or specific cognitive deficiencies or disabilities.[4] The study did no address physically handicapped students. According to the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities,[5] more than 90% of students with learning disabilities spend at least some of the school day in regular classrooms. Students with learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, and menta retardation comprise approximately 9.4% of the student population.[6]

A number of studies identified the health risks of mentally disabled students. Adolescent girls with mental retardation may be at greater risk for early pregnancy and dropping out of school[7-9] and both mentally disabled boys and girls may not have the ability and knowledge to make responsible and rational decisions regarding sex and sexuality.[10-12] Additionally, mentally disabled students appear to be at increased risk for severe depression, suicide,[13] physical and emotional abuse,[14] substance abuse,[15,16] obesity,[17] and poor cardiovascular conditioning.[18]

In a study of 156 educable mentally retarded and 54 learning disabled students, health knowledge was shown to be "sorely lacking." The authors asserted that "these special students have as great, if not greater, need for health knowledg as other adolescents".[19] One possible explanation for such low levels of health knowledge may be that special education teachers are inadequately traine in health education (only 19% of the sample had been mainstreamed). A second possible explanation may be that health education teachers who have mentally disabled students mainstreamed into their classroom may not have adequate knowledge and skills to teach these students vital health information and skills.[5] A third possible explanation may be inadequate or lack of health education.[5] "Often the mainstreamed special education student materials for this population is ignored in the regular health classroom because he/she canno read the regular materials and materials on an appropriate reading level are no available".[19] A need exists for better training and support of teachers (both special education and health teachers) and a need for specifically adapted materials to assist in teaching health to this population.[5,12,19]

Various teaching strategies can be used in the health education classroom to facilitate and maximize learning.[3] These strategies may not be the same for mentally disabled students as for regular students. Are today's health educator prepared for the health education classrooms they face? Are the necessary resources available to school health education teachers who instruct mentally disabled students? The purposes of this study were two-fold: first, to identify perceived adequacy of professional training and resources available to health educators who teach the mainstreamed mentally disabled and second, to assess health education teachers' perceived self-efficacy of instructing the mainstreamed mentally disabled student. No studies were identified which had examined health education teachers' self-efficacy as it relates to the mentally disabled student. …