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Prentice Hall
Teaching Students with Severe Disabilities / Edition 3

Teaching Students with Severe Disabilities / Edition 3

by David L. Westling


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780131105539
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Publication date: 08/01/2004
Edition description: REV
Pages: 592
Product dimensions: 8.14(w) x 9.94(h) x 1.10(d)

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It was almost 30 years ago, in 1975, that the 94th Congress of the United States passed PL. 94-142, which said that every child in the United States has a right to public education. For 100 or so years before 1975, states had required that children go to school, usually until they were 16. But the states' laws allowed some children to be excluded if local school boards deemed that they would not learn sufficiently. In most states, therefore, many young people whom we now refer to as having severe disabilities were excluded from public education programs. If they did go to school, it was almost always in a separate building from where other children were in school. If a student's disability was significant, the student was not even allowed to attend these separate schools. Parents had few options: keep their child at home, find a private special school (usually one run by a parents' group or organization), or place their child in a residential institution.

To some, this may seem like ancient history. To us, as well as to many others who have had a long-standing interest in the well-being of persons with severe disabilities, we were there. We were there when many school systems, not with some degree of reluctance, began to offer educational programs for students with significant disabilities.

Of course, the learning settings were not exactly what we might have desired but, nevertheless, public education began to occur. In our area, the educational arrangement for teaching students with very significant disabilities was the top floor of the residential institution in which they had lived for most of their lives. (The special school in the area, which was serving studentswith more moderate disabilities, said there was not enough room. Later it built a special wing for "the severe/profound.") So every morning students would be taken to the top floor, where a few special education pioneers would try their best to teach these students something that would presumably make their lives better. Some of the instruction was good and relevant; some was of little relevance. But, all in all, it was a learning experience for everyone.

If you look at the field of education for students with severe disabilities from a historical perspective, you might characterize it as an ever-moving, broader-growing, outward-spiraling effort to assist people to become fuller participants in the mainstream world. In the early 1970s and to some extent in the 1960s, innovative researchers were looking for ways to help people with disabilities become more able. What they were working on were relatively basic, albeit important, skills. They were working primarily in institutions, and they were teaching toileting skills, how to bathe and groom, how to get dressed, how to use feeding utensils—essentially, how to take care of oneself in the world. Most of what they were doing was of interest only to people who read professional journals, but they were starting to lay important groundwork for the development of relevant, functional educational programs.

In the latter 1970s and beyond, the earth really began to move with regard to what many professionals, including researchers, policymakers, administrators, teachers, and, most important, parents, began to study, say, and do with and for persons with severe disabilities. Students who were more able, though still labeled "trainable," were now being taught basic reading and other academic skills, totally segregated schools began to be considered inappropriate, and many students were moved into regular school buildings with peers without disabilities, although generally still separated. Students began to go into the community to learn how to function in the nonschool world, to eat in restaurants, to shop in stores, and to work at jobs. We learned about how best to teach new skills and learned better how to ensure the generalization of these new skills. Ultimately, we began to learn how to really include students with severe disabilities in general education classrooms, how to foster social relationships, and how to provide meaningful instruction to students with disabilities who were taught with their nondisabled peers.

As professionals who have been around for awhile, we have had the opportunity, like many of our colleagues, to observe many significant and even dramatic changes in the lives of people with severe disabilities. But, while we take some pleasure in seeing what has occurred in the last 30 or so years, we have to remember two critical points.

First, students with severe disabilities and their families today are not part of this history. They don't look back at the innovations and trends and consider themselves better off today, because they were not part of what was happening 20 or 30 years ago. Their context is only the present, only now. And their judgment of what is occurring today is made solely on the quality of life that they are experiencing vis-a-vis the lives of others in their communities. Therefore, the fact that the field has moved forward can never really give them much satisfaction with regard to how supports and services are perceived today.

The second important point is that we know how to do things better than we are actually doing them. In most public school systems, students with severe disabilities (labeled as mentally retarded, autistic, multiply handicapped, or deaf-blind) are still educated in separate facilities. Many are not given an appropriate education by well-qualified general and special education teachers. Many times ineffective teaching approaches are used, and often students don't learn what they might have learned under different circumstances. Furthermore, most students with severe disabilities are still not adequately prepared for participation in an integrated postschool world.

But, as we have said, we are in a position to know that conditions have improved. And we are hopeful that they will continue to do so. Perhaps the work we have done here will be of some help, and perhaps progress will come soon enough to benefit some of the persons who need better services today. About the New Edition

As with previous editions, we have tried to produce a current text with useful information that can be easily comprehended and applied by the reader who is developing instructional programs. Recognizing that there is always a gap between research and practice, we wanted to write the book in such a way that the reader could understand and use research findings in the real world. Although we know this is often difficult, nevertheless we think it is possible and hope that the content and style of presentation make it probable. As we studied the research literature to provide what we hope is a comprehensive text, we also relied on our own experience, values, and common sense to direct us. We have also learned a great deal from many persons with disabilities, their parents, and their teachers, which we think has increased the relevance of our work.

Since the last edition was published, several important issues have arisen or been given greater emphasis. We have tried to capture the essence of these issues and address them in the text where appropriate. In addition to other topics covered in earlier issues, more attention has been given to the following:

  • Research continues to document conditions about individuals with severe disabilities and their learning potential. We address this topic in Chapter 1.
  • Access to the general curriculum is a matter that many researchers and practitioners have given more attention to in recent years, and we have addressed this beginning in Chapter 2 and in other relevant chapters in the text. Akin to this is the participation of students with severe disabilities in literacy learning, which we discuss in some detail.
  • Likewise, the use of alternate assessments to hold schools responsible for the education of students with severe disabilities has been given greater coverage. States, school districts, schools, and individual teachers are searching for ways to accurately assess and document students at the end of the year. We have tried to shed some light on this topic.
  • Appropriate roles of paraprofessionals have been given much consideration. The roles of these individuals are very important, but some have warned that these roles have to be better defined and understood. Chapter 3 takes a broad look at this issue.
  • In Chapter 4 we devote much more attention to multicultural issues. The condition remains that most teachers of students with severe disabilities are White females, but the students they teach come from very diverse backgrounds. We felt it was important to look at this issue in more depth in order to better shape practice.
  • One of the most significant practices emerging in recent years is the promotion of more self-management by persons with severe disabilities to improve skill acquisition, maintenance, and generalization. We have discussed and explained this practice in different areas of the text.
  • Finally, we have developed an entirely new chapter (Chapter 19) on assistive technology (AT). Although the full potential of AT has not yet been realized for the large majority of persons with severe disabilities, there is enough promise so that readers need to know about AT to help them to move forward in this area.

This book reflects the knowledge and understanding of individuals with severe disabilities that we have gained from the research and our relationships with students with disabilities, their families, and the teachers who support them. These relationships have inspired us and fueled our commitment to this endeavor. We are very appreciative of the support and encouragement offered by our loved ones, friends, and colleagues as we worked on this revision. As always, the feedback that we received from those who used or read the text or parts of it has been helpful. At the risk of forgetting someone who has given us constructive feedback, we would like to thank Karena Cooper-Duffy, Bill Ogletree, Glen Dunlap, Bobbie Vaughn, and many students for their ideas and support. We would also like to thank Allyson Sharp, our editor at Merrill/Prentice Hall, and Penny Burleson, her assistant, for the ideas and ongoing prompts that they provided to improve the text and keep us on track in revising it. Also, thanks go to the reviewers of the second edition who made suggestions for this edition, including Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, California State University; Helen Hammond, University of Texas at El Paso; and Tony Russo, Marywood University. To the extent that we were able to incorporate the recommendations, our gratitude is expressed to all who made them. For any shortcomings, we accept responsibility and hope that readers will understand.

The lives of people with severe disabilities and their families are complex and difficult to fully comprehend by anyone who is not an intimate part of them. So too are the challenges of those who try with all their effort to provide appropriate service. We know that our roles in this process are small. But we hope that what we have offered in this text will be useful and will contribute in some way to the continued improvement of educational and related services for persons with severe disabilities.


Table of Contents


 1. Students with Severe Disabilities: Definitions, Descriptions, Characteristics, and Potential.

 2. Philosophy and Best Practices for Educating Students with Severe Disabilities.

 3. Collaboration among Professionals and Paraprofessionals.

 4. Parents, Families, and Cultural Issues.


 5. Planning Instructional Programs for Students with Severe Disabilities.

 6. Conducting Assessments to Determine Instructional Needs.


 7. Teaching Students to Acquire New Skills.

 8. Teaching Skills for Generalization and Maintenance.

 9. Evaluating Student Progress.

10. Creating Inclusive Educational Environments.


11. Teaching Communication Skills.

12. Providing Behavioral Supports to Improve Challenging Behavior.

13. Managing Sensory and Motor Systems.

14. Providing Support for Health and Medical Needs.

15. Teaching Personal Care Skills.

16. Teaching Leisure and Recreational Skills.

17. Teaching Appropriate Academic Skills.

18. Teaching Community and Domestic Skills.


19. Using Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning.

20. Meeting the Needs of Young Children.

21. Transition Planning and Adult Issues

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