How To Compare Special Education and Mainstream Students

Comparison is a dangerous word to use with students.  We must be cautious because we must not measure students with disabilities with the same stick that we use to measure unimpaired students.  It is the old 'apples to oranges' scenario. What we can do is to examine all students and decide whether a disability exists and if so, how we can remediate.

I have outlined some hallmarks of the student with special needs.  I have tried to provide a checklist or timeline that we can hold a student up to so that we can understand whether a disparity exists and how we can assist. 

I have designed the checklist in the form of a series of questions.  If the answer is yes to one or two, it is probably not indicative of a problem, but if there are quite a few concerns from the list, further testing and consideration of special education may be necessary.

  1. Has the child experienced any significant trauma in his life? These are some of the events which may put him 'at risk' for difficulties.  Death? Divorce? Abandonment? Abuse? Neglect? Poverty? Malnutrition? Frequent illness?
  2. Does the child exhibit any physical difficulties?
    • vision problems
    • hearing trouble
    • poor health
    • physical development
    • delayed speech and language
    • coordination
  3. Has a doctor ever indicated concerns for any area of the child's health, development or functioning?
  4. Has any teacher ever noted or described problems in school?
    • socially
    • with subject matter
    • emotionally (withdrawn, given to angry outbursts, easily frustrated)
  5. Do the child's parents or caregivers express any concerns about the child's development, learning or behavior?
  6. How does she relate with her parents or primary caregivers? Do you notice anger, hostility, fear, jealousy or apathy?  Keep in mind that this doesn't automatically indicate poor parenting.
  7. How does she interact with others adults and children?  Does she demonstrate symptoms of withdrawal? Aggression? Fear? Anger?
  8. How does the student feel about himself or perceive himself?  Let him talk about himself.   Encourage him to use words to describe himself.  Listen carefully to the word choices (stupid, fat, lazy, careless, etc.) A simple way to gather information is to ask the child to draw himself, his family and his friends.  Note how he draws himself.  Ask him about the drawing.
  9. How does the child perceive his abilities? Does he consider himself 'good' or 'bad' in different skill areas?
  10. Does she demonstrate extreme fear of  or anxiety about anything or anyone?  Ask him.
  11. Does he claim to 'hate' anything or anyone? Ask him.

When you put all the information together, either from notes, files or interviews, you will have a pretty good picture of this child.  If there are areas of concern, you can seek out the help and advice of professionals and request further testing.  You can go online and search out information on the symptoms or behavior you've noticed.   You will generally be able to locate people, places and programs to help.


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