Academic journal article Childhood Education

Physically Challenged Students

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Physically Challenged Students

Article excerpt

Recent U.S. Department of Education figures indicate that approximately 147,000 students are being treated for physical disabilities, of which 41,000 are orthopedically handicapped, 43,000 are other health impaired and 63,000 are multiple-handicapped. Approximatly 17,000 students are technology-dependent and this number is expected to rise.

Until recently, students with severe health problems who needed continuous medical monitoring received their academic instruction in the isolated settings of residential facilities, hospitals and homes. Now, however, historic education laws have opened public school classroom doors to "medically fragile" or physically challenged students. These laws include Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112), the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (PL 94-142) and its 1986 Amendments (PL 99-457), and the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990 (PL 101-476).

The Council for Exceptional Children defines medically fragile students as requiring "specialized technological health care procedures for life support and/or health support during the school day. These students may or may not require special education" (Council for Exceptional Children, 1988, pp. 5-6). Students qualifying as "other health impaired" have "limited strength, vitality, or alertness, due to chronic or acute health problems, ... which adversely affects their educational performance" (Sirvis, 1988, p. 42). Physical disabilities may include a variety of neurological or musculo-skeletal impairments such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, arthritis or scoliosis. Severe, chronic illnesses include asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, leukemia, sickle-cell anemia and hemophilia.

Physically challenged students are the fastest growing population of children receiving special education services. Advances in medical technology ensure declining mortality rates and improve the chances of preventing or curing many diseases and disorders. Recent U.S. Department of Education figures indicate that approximately 147,000 students are being treated for physical disabilities, of which 41,000 are orthopedically handicapped, 43,000 are other health impaired and 63,000 are multiple-handicapped (Hallahan & Kauffman, 1991). Approximately 17,000 students are technology-dependent and this number is expected to rise (Caldwell, Sirvis, Todaro & Accouloumre, 1991).

While school district central office personnel face the legal, financial and administrative issues associated with these students, regular classroom teachers and special education professionals must form a team to effectively serve this growing population. The following specific suggestions provide preschool, elementary and middle grade teachers with some immediate assistance necessary for the day-to-day, successful integration of students with physical and medical difficulties. The tips focus on parent involvement, peer interaction, environmental/training considerations and instructional adaptations.

Parent Involvement

Family members can provide key information about the student's abilities, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Parental insights complement information obtained from school sources and provide a general picture of the student's needs and capabilities (Bernheimer, Gallimore & Weisner, 1990). Teachers must acknowledge parents' anxiety, while channeling their concern into healthy, constructive contributions. Teachers can promote maximum parental involvement in the following ways:

* Medical History. Obtain the student's complete medical history, including names, addresses and telephone numbers of attending physicians. When possible, secure parental permission to contact physicians in a medical emergency or with questions. Make careful notes about the student's need for medication (dosage, frequency) and regularity of ongoing medical treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, dialysis, suctioning). …

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