Fostering Strengths and Supporting the Needs of Students With Disabilities

Fostering Strengths and Supporting the Needs of Students With Disabilities

Amy Milsom, Maggie DeWeese
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7319-8.ch011
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Students with disabilities often are not adequately served in schools, resulting in academic achievement gaps as well as poorer college and career outcomes compared to their peers without disabilities. Nearly 14% of students in public K-12 schools have diagnosed disabilities and receive services and accommodations either through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. School counselors are responsible for addressing the academic, career, and social-emotional needs of every student in their school, yet research consistently suggests many school counselors do not feel prepared or confident to address the needs of students with disabilities. This chapter is designed to provide an overview of the unique strengths and needs of students with disabilities, as well as a framework for conceptualizing counseling interventions. The importance of collaboration, leadership, and advocacy are discussed, as are ethical and professional development recommendations.
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Federal legislation that was passed nearly 50 years ago drastically impacted the work of school counselors. In combination, the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142, which was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] in 1990), led to increasing numbers of students with disabilities attending and receiving specialized supports in public schools. Currently, an estimated 14% of students have diagnosed disabilities and receive services and accommodations typically outlined either through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) developed as part of requirements under IDEA, or through a 504 plan that corresponds to Section 504 (U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, 2016). Guaranteeing a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities, IDEA provides funding to schools to support the provision of educational accommodations and related services (including counseling). It also has provisions regarding assessment and intervention to facilitate post-secondary transitions (i.e., to work, college, or independent living). In contrast, Section 504 is a civil rights law designed to prevent discrimination – it ensures students with disabilities receive education comparable to their peers without disabilities.

Currently, the IDEA supports the provision of services for students who fall under 13 disability categories: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment, including blindness. The “other health impairment” category includes conditions that might create what IDEA [§300.8(c)(9)] describes as a limited or a heightened level of alertness affecting their ability to engage in the educational environment, and that negatively affect educational performance. Conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), epilepsy, and asthma could fall into this category. For example, a student suffering an epileptic seizure could have immediate and long-term disruptions to their learning. Each of those conditions also might meet eligibility criteria under Section 504.

Section 504 offers a broad definition of disability, and students who have a condition that negatively affects a major life activity, including educational activities such as learning, concentrating, and reading, could become eligible for services. Further, students who have hidden disabilities, or conditions that are not readily apparent, often receive services under Section 504. This is where chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, or depression that might not be present all the time or obvious to others, can severely disrupt a student’s ability to attend school or concentrate. Also, students who have a diagnosis of ADHD might be eligible to receive services under Section 504.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multi-Tiered System of Support: A framework involving early intervention and assessment to determine appropriate levels of intervention; Tier 1 involves whole school intervention, Tier 2 refers to targeted intervention for small groups of students who do not acquire sufficient knowledge or skill at Tier 1, and Tier 3 is individualized intervention.

Postsecondary Transition: A transition to life after high school, including higher education, employment, and the ability to live independently.

Disability: A mental or physical impairment that affects a person’s ability to learn or work.

504 Plan: A specific plan developed for an individual student that outlines school-based accommodations and services that will be implemented to address social, emotional, or behavioral concerns that affect learning; required for students who receive support through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): A document that summarizes student needs, recommended services, and accommodations; required for students who have a diagnosed disability and meet criteria for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Functional Limitation: An impairment to or restriction in a person’s ability to perform or complete specific activities in relation to learning, working, mobility, or other physical functions (e.g., reading, hearing).

Multidisciplinary Team: A group of individuals with different backgrounds, expertise, and perspectives.

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