It is an interesting time to be writing a chapter on models for special needs education because there are so many pressures for change being exerted in education in general. While this chapter seeks to explore the shortcomings and benefits of medical and psychological models in the provision of education to students with special educational and developmental needs, in order to place a consideration of these models in perspective, I will provide a setting by outlining two significant influences in special education over the last quarter of a century. The first is the behavioural revolution and the second is inclusive schooling.
As a development of B.F. Skinner's enormously influential research of the 1950s, the late 1960s and 1970s saw a revolution in special education, particularly in the USA. A strong movement to behavioural models of educational instruction and programming became the battlegrounds for fierce debates. The notion that anything that was not 'observable, measurable and repeatable' was not relevant or testable in education became the catch cry of the behavioural movement. Behaviour modification, a technique of particular value in behaviour disorders classes and in schools for students with severe disabilities, became a most popular technique for classroom practice. Relying strongly on operant conditioning principles, this technology became a powerful influence in special education, extending into the realm of curriculum and instruction. The very popular DISTAR curriculum materials in maths, reading and language became common sights in special education classrooms everywhere, while direct instruction, a strongly behavioural approach to instruction, dominated classrooms and debates for a decade.