Emotional disturbance, as defined by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), is a condition demonstrating one or more of the following features over a long time, to the extent it severely impacts a studentr’s educational performance. The first of which is an inability to learn aside from intellectual, sensory, or health factors, followed by an inability to engage in adequate interpersonal relationships with other students and teachers. Additionally, students with emotional disturbance may display inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances, a general inescapable mood of unhappiness or depression, as well as a propensity to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems (Algozzine, 2017).
If a child demonstrates one or more of the characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree, the child is considered “disturbed” and eligible for special education services. Over the years, while the relative number of students identified as qualifying for special education in other categories, such as other specific learning disabilities and autism, has ebbed and flowed, the number of students acknowledged to be eligible for special education in the category of emotional disturbance has remained constant (MacFarlane, & Woolfson, 2013).
The emotionally disturbed child is the student who, after receiving supportive educational assistance and counseling services available to all students, still exhibits persistent and consistent severe to very severe behavior issues affecting their ability to learn and interact with others. The behavior issues associated with said student cannot be attributed primarily to physical, sensory or intellectual shortcomings (Algozzine, 2017).
Students with emotional and behavior disturbances are more likely to face disciplinary exclusions and receive lower academic grades than other students with disabilities. Only 20% of students with emotional disturbances ages 14 to 21 who exited the school system in the last decade received a high school diploma. Similarly, these students experienced disproportionate rates of arrest by the justice system (Smith, Katsiyannis, & Ryan, 2011).
Learning disabilities are the most common type of disability among special education students today. For many years, almost half of special education students were identified as having a specific learning disability as their primary disability. The share of special education students with learning disabilities dropped from 46 percent in 2000-01 to 38 percent in 2009-10, but these students still continued to make up the single largest disability group (Aron & Loprest, 2012).
Children with learning disabilities are characterized by lasting feelings of isolation and social rejection over time. Students who are less frequently chosen by peers at school have fewer opportunities to interact and build friendships, leading to increased loneliness, poor social behavior and emotional distress. Conversely, having positive relationships with other students leads to improved mental and psychological adjustment (Cavioni, Grazzani, & Ornaghi, 2017).
Students with learning disabilities seem to have more difficulty identifying expressions of emotions such as anger, fear, joy, and embarrassment, as well as correctly interpreting social situations and the behavioral consequences of certain actions. In addition, students with learning disabilities are more likely to manifest behavior problems, such as difficulty in maintaining positive social interactions and aggressive behaviors toward other students (Martin, 2013).
Education is important for all children, but for those with disabilities or special needs it could mean the difference between a socially fulfilling, intellectually stimulating, and productive life and a future deprived of these qualities. Additionally, education has the potential to positively affect a studentr’s ability to advocate for themselves, manage chronic health conditions, and learn how to deal with a variety of problems in childhood and later in life. There are varying opinions on how to properly educate children with learning disabilities (Aron & Loprest, 2012).
A popular approach in the education of children with learning disabilities is the concept of inclusive education. According to this ideology, all students belong and are valued members of their classroom, and school communities at large. Proponents of inclusive education believe that when students are segregated, the opportunity to interact with a broad range of differences and interests is lost. On the other hand, inclusion creates connections between students, enabling them to pursue shared objectives. Inclusion realizes all students are unique, giving them the feeling they belong, not only in their class, but in the outside world (Specht, 2013). The self-esteem of children with learning disabilities may be negatively affected by classroom isolation and the difficulties of dealing with the demands of school. Children with learning disabilities tend to compare their performance with their peers, often seeing themselves as different, less valued and less skilled (Cavioni, Grazzani, & Ornaghi, 2017).
Since 1975, there has been a push for inclusive education classes in which students with disabilities are educated alongside their classmates without disabilities in the least restrictive environment. The level of inclusion is up for discussion, with some seeing inclusion as full-time integration, and others viewing it as mainstreaming by placing a student into special rotations for certain subjects such as art, music, or physical education, with the expressed purposed of aiding students in their ability to socialize with others. Some have describe inclusion as providing the support needed to ensure students with disabilities remain successful when they take part in general education classroom. Physical education is no exception to this practice. Despite their disabilities, students should have the opportunity to participate with other students in general physical education class (Umhoefer, Vargas, & Beyer, 2015).
PE teachers are tasked with ensuring students with disabilities, as well as the students without disabilities are equally successful in their classes. Many researchers have found teachers feel inadequately prepared to adapt and modify their lesson, especially when teaching combined groups of students (?–zer, et al., 2013). General physical educators often lack the support, knowledge, and skills necessary to develop appropriate and safe programs. This is not fair to the teacher, the students with disabilities, or the other students in the class. Children with disabilities have the right to be exposed to the same variety of activities, learning them to the best of their ability. In order to accomplish this, PE teachers must be highly qualified, possessing specific knowledge and skills to instruct children with and without disabilities in physical education (Lieberman, 2010).
While most PE teachers support and express positive attitudes toward inclusion, the actual practice of inclusive physical education is not an easy task. PE teachers are often frustrated with their inability to cope with children with disabilities, expressing feelings of inadequacy. There are many benefits to inclusive physical education; especially considering the fact children with a disability are particularly at risk for physical inactivity (Simpson, & Mandich, 2012).
PE teachers must be adequately supported when including students with learning disabilities in PE. These supports include the presence of educational aids, as well as the ability to consult with special education specialists and school psychologists. Access to adapted and specialized sports equipment is equally important, in addition to adapting curriculum expectations to meet the students needs (Winnick & Porretta, 2016).
Effective strategies for instructing students with an emotional learning disability include having an effective lesson introduction, setting a positive tone for the remainder of the class, and providing a brief introduction with an anticipatory activity. Since students with emotional learning disability are easily distracted, it is important to properly position the equipment, teacher, and students to minimize distractions (Young, 2012).
A special consideration should be made to safety, with any relevant safety rules explained and reiterated often, along with a clear explanation of consequences for any misuse of the equipment. Difficulty sustaining attention may be alleviated by limiting the number of new motor skills taught in a lesson to two or three, depending on their complexity. Research supports the use of visual support for children with behavioral disorders, especially in tandem with verbal instruction, examples may include pictures, diagrams, sign language, or other body movements used in addition to verbal information (Winnick, & Porretta, 2016).
PE teachers should provide frequent specific feedback, as well as keeping students motivated to stay on task maintaining motivation to stay on task. Other recommendations include establishing an entry routine, making transitions efficient, having a routine for gathering and dismissing students, providing very specific instructions, organizing equipment, and clearly marking boundaries for the playing area. Every effort must be made to group students in formations that fully utilize space and prevent long wait periods, as well as providing students with enough equipment or, if this is not feasible, create stations where students have the opportunity to work on a variety of skills (Young, 2012).
In conclusion, the writer found children with emotional learning disability simply need an appropriate support system in order to take advantage of the benefits of participating in PE class. Despite some obvious challenges, students with learning disabilities must be made to feel like they belong, therefore inclusion in PE is extremely beneficial, affording all students an opportunity to not only engage in physical activity, but feel they are part of a group. PE teachers must work in conjunction with special education teachers and school psychologists, making up a unified team dedicated to ensuring the well being of all students. Though many PE teachers see themselves as poorly equipped to deal with students with learning disabilities, with proper support, they have the ability to truly make a difference in the lives of all their students, especially those with learning disabilities. Physical educators are able to provide a quality PE program to students with learning disabilities simply by making modifications to their classes, paying special attention to minimizing distractions, as well as teaching all students specific classroom routines and behaviors.
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