Research into Early Intervention of Special Education

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The following paper will examine three factors of early intervention including; reducing the identification rate of special education students, early intervention as a preventative measure for special education placement, and ethical consideration involved in early intervention.

Data illustrating the rising numbers of children qualifying for special education services have caused "much outcry among educational authorities on the rising cost of special education". (Grand Canyon University, 2005, ¶2) As enrollments increase, "Some believe it has become too easy to place students in the special education". (Grand Canyon University, 2005, ¶2) Some also believe over-identification results from ineffective general education practices or inadequate assessments. Still others believe identification targets minority children. Strategies such as early interventions are being shown to be effective as preventive measures for special education placement. Many researchers theorize that early intervention should include: the neo-natal period, and they produce research targeting environmental toxins as root causes of fundamental learning disabilities for some demographic groups. Currently, school districts must be aware of ethical considerations involved in identification of children for services.

From 1988-89 to 1998-99, special education enrollments grew about twice as fast as those of all students (33% versus 15% growth)" (Parrish, 2007, p. 1). Thomas B. Parrish notes in his research, "…the major changes in special education enrollment over the past ten years have been in categories of disability that generally enroll students with less severe special needs." (2008, p. 4)

With the nationwide movement in early identification of disabilities in very young children, Response to Intervention (RTI) is gradually becoming known in many school districts. "Response to Intervention (RTI) is a new way to determine if a child has a learning disability and needs special education services. RTI is a process that gets help to students faster and eliminates the need for kids to 'fail' before they get individualized help" (Logsdon, 2004, p. 2)

Many school districts are shifting towards inclusion of special education students in the general education classroom; multiple school districts recognize the potential ethical considerations of inclusion of special education students. Inclusion may possibly work extremely well for some students with less severe learning disabilities, or in some situations where special education teachers are already well integrated into the co-teaching model with general education teachers, some school districts would prefer to identify at-risk students early on.

Opponents of inclusion have "protested vigorously that the quality of education for disabled students would be damaged" were they to be included in the general education classroom due to the greater teacher/pupil ration in the classrooms, and the lack of qualified special education teachers, (Michigan in Brief, 2004, p. 3) Early intervention for these students could result posing less risk to their non-disabled peers by warding off qualifying behaviors which encompasses a disruption of the learning of others.

Early intervention is most often perceived as programs established for young children, such as RTI, there is also a growing awareness that early intervention starts even before the child is born. Since 1958, The Learning Disabilities of New York researched the connection between environmental toxins and learning disabilities. In a recent paper, the Association states - in reference to early intervention -

"Genetic causes cannot be prevented but other causes such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use during pregnancy and exposure to environmental toxins can be. Prenatal and early childhood exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, PCBs, pesticides, dioxins and other industrial chemicals are of the most concern. Research has proven these chemicals are passed from the mother to the developing fetus, where the impact and the effect of these chemicals can result in lifelong learning and other developmental disabilities for the child". (Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, 2004, p. 1)

One of the questions that researchers and special education teachers often ponder is: Can genetic causes of learning disabilities be reduced? In the case of environmentally released mercury in Texas, the identification of children could not be slowed or reduced for specific eligibility. When researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center, Our Lady of the Lake University (San Antonio) and the University of Pennsylvania Center for Mental Health Policy and Service Research examined student identification data in conjunction with specific increases in environmental mercury, they found a correlation to special education and autism rates in Texas. "There was a significant increase in the rates of special education students and autism rates associated with increases in environmentally released mercury," the team found. (Palmer, Blanchard, Stein, Mandel, & Miller, 2004, p. 1Furthermore, Palmer et al. (2004) found "the association between environmentally released mercury and special education rates were fully mediated by increased autism rates…These results have implications for policy planning and cost analysis."

Policy planning and cost analysis is currently the concerns of school districts who discover they must handle the increased enrollment of special education students. School districts are accountable to the federal mandates of IDEA

"The National Academy for Sciences panel of experts regarded disproportionality as harmful when it resulted from inadequate regular education programs, inappropriate assessment programs, or ineffective special education programs. High-quality, effective instruction for all student in both general and special education could diminish the significance of overrepresentation. In addition, increasing the appropriateness of assessment practices would lead to the same decisions at the referral, assessment, and placement steps regardless of the race or ethnicity of the student given the same behaviors or symptoms" (Coutinho & Oswald, 2004, p. 10).

Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates a free appropriate public education for all students, criticism of over-identification of minority students. "The misplacement of students in special education is problematic in that it is not only stigmatizing, but it can also deny individuals the high quality of life enhancing education to which they are entitled." (Artiles, Harry, Reschley, & Chinn, 2001, p. 3). As the authors have explained the multiple factors "range from the pervasive impact on minority children's development to institutional discrimination that may result in lower expectations, over-referrals and over identification." " (Artiles, Harry, Reschley, & Chinn, 2001, p. 3).

Artiles et al. noted the direct and indirect methods in which poverty clearly contributes to the risk of school failure saying, "Poverty contributes to a significant number of problems such as less than optimal medical care both at the pre-natal stage for expectorant mothers as well as post natal care for newborns." (Artiles, Harry, Reschley, & Chinn, 2001, p. 6). Inadequate pre-natal care and poor nutrition enhances the infants risk of cognitive and sensory impairments. Therefore, with preventive services in place, early identification of infants at risk can improve their chances of developing at normal rates.

In order to ease the over-identification of minority and poor students, researcher investigates the patterns of these identifications is important and necessary from an ethical standpoint. According to Artiles, et al.,

"Aside from the pervasive potential impact of poverty on children's development, it should be acknowledged that poverty is associated with lower academic achievement, which in turn exacerbates the chances of special education placement. At the same time, recent research suggests the need to assess the contexts of schools and communities to better understand over-representation patterns.

A multitude of factors shape each child into our world. The educational system in the United States has traditionally addressed the regular education child, in recent decades; the needs of the children have evolved. The number of children qualifying for special education services has risen over the years and continues to increase. Clearly, educators need to advocate for early identification of children who may have difficulty learning or adapting to social norms of our society. The early identification of mothers at risk for their child to be born with the potential for learning disabilities - early identification of at risk children is within the mother to be reach and must be addressed by the government which mandates all children to receive a free appropriate public education.