This special issue on educating children and adults with intellectual disability and related developmental disabilities (IDD) highlights critical developments in theory, research, and practice related to teaching, learning, and schooling. The six articles in this issue focus on (a) how social-ecological understanding of disability and the supports paradigm can be applied in educational settings and activities; (b) core practices, dispositions, and orientations needed by educators of students with extensive support needs; (c) the roles and responsibilities of professionals from different disciplines in educating secondary-age students with complex health care needs in general education classrooms; (d) experimental findings related to the efficacy of an approach to teaching academic skills that are simultaneously aligned with standards from the general education curriculum as well as functional skills; (e) predictors of inclusive course enrollments at institutions of higher education that offer programs for students with intellectual disability (ID); and (f) international perspectives on the challenges and benefits associated with establishing inclusive school communities.
The beginning of the field of intellectual disability and related developmental disabilities (IDD) is often traced to an educational experiment from the early 1800s, namely the efforts of Dr. Jean Marc Itard and his colleagues to educate Victor, a 12-year-old (or so) boy with a developmental disability. Itard's experiment did not result in identifying and demonstrating particularly useful teaching methods. He did, however, carefully document his instructional efforts and provided evidence his student had made some progress (Shattuck, 1980). By demonstrating that a child with IDD (whom others had claimed was unteachable) could learn when provided with instruction, Itard's great contribution was inspiring others to take up the challenge of educating children who had heretofore been considered to reside outside the purview of educators and formal schooling. Edouard Séguin (the first president of AAIDD), Samuel Gridley Howe, and Maria Montessori were just a few of the early pioneers in the IDD field who were inspired by Itard and Victor (Ferguson, 2013).
Multiple professionals based in the biological and medical sciences, the behavioral sciences, and in education, have followed in Itard's steps by implementing everything from specific, targeted interventions to comprehensive, multifaceted, curriculum driven programs with the intent of increasing the competencies of learners with IDD. Like Itard, the outcomes of their efforts have not always matched their initial expectations, but each relative success and failure has contributed to the breadth and depth of the knowledge base that forms the foundation of the field of special education as well as for the articles in this special issue. Contemporary researchers and practitioners whose work focuses on educating children and adults with disabilities would be wise to guard against judging the missteps of those who came before too harshly, unless they are willing to have their efforts judged by future generations using tomorrow's standards. Certainly, Itard did not have it all figured out when he worked with Victor and it is equally clear that nobody (including us) has it all figured out today.
But, not knowing everything is not the same as knowing nothing, and the substantial progress that has been made over time cannot be denied and should not be dismissed. Our goal for this special issue is to present a collection of articles that reflect the cutting edge of research and practice in educating children and adults with IDD. Although we could not cover all potential topics relevant to educating students with IDD, we are excited about the scope of topics covered in this issue and the quality of information provided.
We authored the lead article with our colleagues Karrie Shogren and Mike Wehmeyer. In this article, we explain how social-ecological understanding of disability and the supports paradigm can be applied in educational settings and activities, and can provide a foundation for planning and delivering special education services and supports in schools. Further, we propose a systematic approach to identifying and arranging supports in general education classrooms and schools to assure students with the most significant cognitive disabilities have access to inclusive educational experiences and ambitious learning goals.
In the second article, Andrea Ruppar and colleagues describe the core practices, dispositions, and orientations needed by teachers of students with extensive support needs based on their interviews with expert teachers, school leaders, and teacher educators. These authors align their research findings with a contemporary theoretical model of expertise development as well as with competency standards from professional organizations that are concerned with teacher education curriculum and professional licensure. Through this alignment, they provide a vision for initial teacher preparation and continued professional development to prepare the next generation of special educators.
The third article focuses on educating secondary-age students with complex health care needs in general education classrooms. Sarah Ballard and Stacy Dymond report findings from their investigation into roles of professionals (e.g., educators, school nurses, school administrators) who are responsible for providing supports, the types of supports needed by both professionals and students to be successful, and the barriers to and benefits of inclusive education for a population of students that has too often been relegated to the margins of school and society. Implications for professional practice are discussed.
For those who have trouble envisioning how grade level curriculum can (and should) be made accessible to students with significant cognitive disabilities, Jenny Root and her colleagues at Florida State University, report on findings from an intervention study in which instruction was aligned with a content learning standard from a high school algebra course involving solving mathematical equations with one or two variables and explaining the process. They elected to teach to this standard via problem solving scenarios encountered in everyday life (e.g., computing discounts from coupons and determining whether sufficient cash was available to make purchases). Using an experimental, single subject design, they illustrate how students with intellectual disability (ID) can successfully achieve learning goals that are aligned with the general education curriculum while also learning functional skills associated with shopping and money management.
Although several of the articles in this special issue address long-standing challenges (e.g., expanding inclusive educational opportunities, balancing the need to access the general education curriculum with the need to learn practical skills), Clare Papay and her colleagues focused their research on a relatively new aspect of service provision to people with ID. Fifteen years ago, the pursuit of a college education was largely considered to be off-limits for persons with ID and organized programs targeted to this population were few and far between. Today there are now more than 260 such programs in the U.S., and the question “Is there a program at your college that students with ID can access?” is rapidly being replaced by “What exactly happens at your college program that is targeted to students with ID, and what evidence do you have that students benefit from it?” Using data collected through the Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities National Coordinating Center, these authors identified predictors of inclusive course enrollments at institutions of higher education and discuss the implications of their findings for the design and goals of postsecondary education programs.
The final article in this special issue was authored by a research team at the University of Kansas led by Jenny Kurth, along with 11 international experts on inclusive education whose professional experiences span five continents over multiple decades. The insights and perspectives of professionals from a diversity of international settings (geographically, economically, and politically) offers readers access to a range of voices that are too often missing from Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as well as other professional journals focusing on disability, special education, and rehabilitation. The diverse international perspectives reveal the distinctions and commonalities of factors impacting inclusive education, and highlight the contextual elements associated with different settings and cultures.
We are grateful to the author teams who agreed to have their work reviewed and published in this special issue. Authors were asked to provide original research and forward-looking perspectives that would be of interest to readers who closely follow research and practice in education and are very familiar with current issues and trends, as well as to readers whose work and interests are more focused on noneducational aspects of the IDD field. We believe the authors met this challenge quite well, and we hope this special issue will, in a small way, allow us to follow in the steps of Itard in terms of inspiring others to move research and practice in educating people with IDD to new and exciting frontiers.