Life Skills Students in Special Education Term Paper

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Life Skills Classes and Special Education

Do life skills classes in the special education classroom produce more functional adults after graduation?

Daily living skills such as how to prepare meals, manage a checking account, dress oneself, housekeeping tasks and skills such as these are something that most take for granted. However, for the special needs student, these skills might not come naturally. They need to be taught many of these daily skills in order to become a functional adult. Special needs students need formal training and special instruction to learn these essential living skills. Some states require life skills to be taught as a part of the student's formal educational curriculum. However, the success of these programs is controversial and there are those that claim these programs are a waste of time and money, as they do not prepare the special needs student for life beyond school. This research will examine life skills courses and there success in providing students with the skills that they need to succeed in adult life.

Social Skills as Essential Life Skill Preparation

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Social functioning is an essential life skills for all children. Behavior disorders significantly hinder the ability of the special needs child to hold a job and perform many of the essential social interactions on a daily basis. Social skills intervention is an important part of the life skills curriculum. Social skills intervention begins as soon as a diagnosis is established. In the early years, social skills intervention includes play-related activities, prompting and rehearsal of target behaviors, free-play generalization, modeling of appropriate social skills and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors (Vaughn et. al., 2003).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Life Skills Students in Special Education Assignment

A meta-analysis of intervention studies revealed that the type and severity of the disability have a significant impact on the success of the intervention strategy (Vaughn et. al., 2003). For instance, children with autism spectrum disorders demonstrated lower success rates in achieving positive social outcomes than children who were diagnosed with physical disabilities only (Bellini et al., 2007). One of the key findings of the meta-analysis was that integration with children with and without disabilities yielded the most successful results. The study concluded that social skills intervention can be successfully integrated into the classroom in a manner that maximizes outcomes (Vaughn et. al., 2003).

The 1997 amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandated that the general education classroom is the preferred learning environment, when possible, as this environment provides for the greatest opportunity for exposure to appropriately modeled social behavior (Coster & Haltiwanger, 2004). Children with disabilities represent a heterogeneous group with differing physical and social needs. A number researchers argue that generalization of special needs children does not represent an accurate representation of the success of various social interventions (Coster & Haltiwanger, 2004).

In a study that used a standardized scale to determine the level of social functioning in children with physical disabilities, researchers determined that children with physical disabilities performed below the acceptable level, according to the scale (Coster & Haltiwanger, 2004). These researchers concluded that children with physical disabilities performed poorly in the area of social skills. However, like many of the research discovered during the course of this research, this study was found to be flawed. The researchers neglected to compare the results of disabled students with those of the remainder of the general classroom. Therefore, it is not known if the general classroom scores accounted for the low scores of the disabled students.

Heterogeneity and the Special Needs Population

One of the key difficulties in research involving a disabled population is the ability to obtain a homogeneous sample population. Every child with special needs is individual and the dynamics of their various disabilities has an impact on the outcome of the study. In addition, studies that do not compare results of the special needs population in a particular school system to those in the general classroom may miss variables that are inherent in the locality of the school. For example, if the school is located in an inner-city low socioeconomic status area, it may affect the results. Achieving validity of study results plays a role in the argument that life skills classes for special needs children do not improve success as adults.

Students with mild mental impairment (MMI) and learning disabilities (LD) represent a different category of students, in terms of life skill preparation than those with more severe disabilities (Bouck, 2004). This study found that school size played a significant role in the types of life skills programs available and their success in preparing students for life beyond school (Bouck, 2004). This study found that in larger school systems, the programs were specialized for various types of disability categories and levels of functioning. These programs were more successful than those in small schools where children of varying disabilities and severities were grouped into a single category (Bouck, 2004).

This study demonstrates that treating a heterogeneous population of students as if they are homogeneous hinders the success of the program. It also presents difficulty in assessment of the programs success rates in improving life skills. The end goal of the program is the determinant of the ultimate success in life skills training. However, success means different things for different students. For the more severe child, success may mean the ability to put a shirt on. For those with less severe disabilities, it may mean the ability to hold a job. Measuring success in a heterogeneous population is a problem that plagues the programs them self and research regarding their success.

National educational standards emphasize academics. For children with disabilities, these standards do not address their needs. National academic standards are no guarantee that children with disabilities will be able to become functional adults that contribute to society. A different measurement scale is needed to assess what constitutes success for these students. Turnbull and associates (2003) suggest that quality of life be included in the measurement of academic success for special needs students. Life skills classes are included as a part of the educational curriculum for special needs students, but there is not standard for assessment of these skills.

The goals of IDEA go beyond academics, yet there have been formal means of assessment for these skills. The goal of life skills under IDEA is to prepare students to "be prepared to live productive, independent adult lives, "to the maximum extent possible" (20 U.S.C. [section] 1400 -(5)(E)(ii) in Turnbull et al., 2003). However, as these researcher point out, the "maximum extent possible" many not mean the ability to be employable, according to society's standards.

The problems of standardization in the assessment of success in life skills preparation classes has a significant impact on the ability to assess their success, both on individual students and in groups. Heterogeneity of the population makes it difficult to set and achieve groups goals, let alone develop national standards regarding life skills success. This inability to standardize the special needs population extends into the wording of laws, such as IDEA. The best that law makers can do it to make generalization that cannot become operational and applied to the assessment of individual programs.

The inability to develop standardized legislation and assessment protocol extends into teacher preparation and training (Nevin, Malian, & Williams, 2002). Synthesis of the educational process for special education teachers means the ability to establish and assess IEP goals for individual students. These abilities are qualitative and teachers must gain experience in the classroom in order to become proficient in these job skills. Mastery of goal setting and assessment of IEP goals is dependent on the teacher's exposure to various types of students during their internship and student teaching experiences (Nevin, Malian, & Williams, 2002).

Individualized tutoring plays an important role in special education programs targeted towards life skills (Heron, Welsch, & Goddard, 2003). Tutoring combines with the IEP to achieve the highly individualized goals of each individual student. Tutoring can occur in groups or in individual settings. The IEP for the student is the ultimate measure of success for the student. Assessment of the IEP is largely qualitative, although there is an attempt to use more qualitative means. For example, a goal may state that a student achieve a particular behavior 4 out of five attempts. However, a majority of the assessment process relies on the individual tutor and staff.

Conclusion: What is Success?

No one will argue that life skills are necessary for special needs students to achieve their maximum potential after graduation. Academics without life skills will not result in the greatest quality of life for the student. However, the problems of measurement and standardization play a major role in the outcome of research and program development. Literature regarding the success of life skill development curriculum contains controversial results. Some feel that these programs are achieving their goals, while others claim that these programs as severely lacking in their ability to improve the quality of life of special needs students.

The problem of heterogeneity among the special needs population extends into all areas… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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