Learners Who are Exceptional Research Paper Starter

Learners Who are Exceptional

This paper provides a general overview of the learners who are exceptional. The learner who is exceptional is multifaceted and complex. In this paper, the reader will find summary information on the legislative and societal influences involved in educating the exceptional learner. A definition of learners who are exceptional is provided. Service delivery models, educational trends, parental roles and teacher characteristics are also discussed.

Keywords Autism; Consultative; Collaborative; Education for All Handicapped Children Act; Family-Centered; Gifted; Inclusion; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA 2004); Individualized Education Plan (IEP); Learning Disability; Multicultural; Preventive; Pull-Out; Related Services; Residential Facility; Self-Contained; Team Teaching; Twice-Exceptional Learner


In the United States, the right to education for all children has been determined by the legal system to be a fundamental right. The changes in societal attitude as well as the legal basis toward learners who are exceptional can be traced through the decades. Prior to the 1800s, education for the learner who is exceptional was not prevalent. In the 19th century, education pioneers such as Horace Mann and Samuel Howe began to advocate for learners who are exceptional (Gravani, 2007; Smith & Luckasson, 1995). These early pioneers established residential schools for individuals who were deaf, blind, orphaned, or delinquent (Gravani, 2007; Smith & Luckasson, 1995). Initially, the residential schools were modeled on schools established in Europe (Smith & Luckasson, 1995).

Howe is credited with promoting the idea that learners who are exceptional could learn in regular classrooms with peers without disabilities (Gravani, 2007; Smith & Luckasson, 1995). Amazingly, this concept began in the late 1800s and slowly spread throughout the United States. As a result, legal and societal views began to focus on creating equal educational opportunity for all individuals. In terms of legal mandates, Brown v. the Board of Education and the authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 (IDEA) are often cited as major catalysts for shaping the education of learners who are exceptional (Smith & Luckasson, 1995). However, it is important to note that without the civil rights movement society may not have expanded its viewpoints to include all children, regardless of ability.

Since Brown v. the Board of Education, legal and societal views have focused on creating equal educational opportunity for all individuals (Fagan & Warden, 1996; Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2000). In terms of education, equal opportunity refers to the right for a child to be educated regardless of his or her physical, social, or mental capability. The evolution of education for children who are exceptional has required numerous adaptations or modifications. Ongoing changes in educating children who are exceptional have also benefited children considered to be normal learners (Smith & Luckasson, 1995). As part of a democratic society, education is considered to be the gateway to economic and political independence.

The education of learners who are exceptional is often referred to as special education. For learners who are exceptional, great strides have been made as a result of the enactment of the Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act (IDEA). For example, learners who are exceptional now receive special education services in the local public school. Additionally, service delivery has expanded from self-contained classrooms to inclusive services.

The goal of education is to produce an educated society and workforce. In terms of learners who are exceptional, the debate is ongoing on the role of education in terms of how to educate learners who are exceptional to meet the goal of education.


Since the establishment of the first residential schools, states have been involved in and have provided funding for special education services. Initially, involvement and funding were limited to individuals who were deaf, blind, orphaned, physically or mentally challenged, or juvenile delinquents (Smith & Luckasson, 1995).

World War II is often credited with causing a major societal shift in how individuals with disabilities are viewed. Many young men returned to the United States and needed various services due to war related injuries, and the field of rehabilitation began in the United States. With the growth of this field and the increased societal pressure to educate all children, rehabilitative practices were merged into a specialized field of special education.

The short supply of properly trained teachers and related staff led to the federal government's taking a more active role in the education of children who are exceptional. In the late sixties, as part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, the federal government began to implement programs for exceptional children in the public schools.

The passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act Public Law 94-142 (P.L. 94-142) in 1975 reflected the importance society placed on educating individuals with disabilities. While P.L. 94-142, currently referred to as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004), has undergone many reauthorizations by Congress, the primary intent of this federal law remains to mandate special education and related services to individuals with disabilities age birth to 21 years.

Defining Learners who are Exceptional

In this paper, the term learner who is exceptional will be used instead of exceptional learner. The purpose behind this terminology is that individuals with disabilities should always be thought of as individuals or persons first instead of their disability.

A learner who is exceptional is a complex and multifaceted individual who is difficult to define (Kirk & Gallagher, 1979). The democratic society in the United States maintains that equal opportunity should exist for all individuals. In terms of education, equal opportunity often refers to the right for a child to be educated regardless of his or her physical, social, or mental capability. Thus, a learner who is exceptional represents many medical, psychological, and developmental categories.

In 1958, Cruickshank defined an exceptional learner as "one who deviates intellectually, physically, socially, or emotionally so markedly from what is considered to be normal growth and development that he cannot receive maximum benefit from a regular school program and requires a special class or supplementary instruction and services" (p. 3). While a broad based definition that encompasses many possibilities, Cruickshank's definition does continue to reflect current thought on learners who are exceptional (Nielsen, & Higgins, 2005; Whitworth, 1993).

The term exceptional learner is a term that includes many categories and degrees of disability. Cruickshank (1958) reported that the term was initially used to represent children with high intellectual abilities. However, other terms such as deviant, atypical, or handicapped have also been used over the years to describe learners who are exceptional (Kirk & Gallagher, 1979; Smith & Luckasson, 1995).

The literature defines children who are exceptional in numerous ways as these learners encompass a wide range of abilities. For example, individuals who are considered gifted or talented are considered exceptional. However, society often thinks of learners who are exceptional as children who are having difficulty learning; physically challenged; or demonstrating social and/or emotional difficulties to such a degree as to deviate from the average peer (Kirk & Gallagher, 1979; Smith & Luckasson, 1995).

Defining the learner who is exceptional requires one to review the research literature from fields such as psychology, medicine, education, allied health (i.e., speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, etc) and sociology. Regardless of the field, there is congruence that learners who are exceptional can be defined as individuals who require modifications in order to benefit from their educational program.


Service Delivery Models for Learners who are Exceptional

The largest service delivery model for learners who are exceptional is special education services. In order to receive special education services the exceptional leaner must be assessed and determined to be in need of services. Services can range from specialized teaching services, special materials and/or equipment, or related services (i.e., speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, assistive technology, etc.).

Available service delivery models for learners who are exceptional are varied and complex. The types of service delivery models to follow are representative of available models; however, these models do not represent all of the available options. The models discussed are presented as absolutes but should not be interpreted as such and should be used as a reference point. In other words, learners who are exceptional are a diverse group and service delivery models should be based on services that meet the needs of the individual, not on services available.

The service delivery models to be discussed are:

• Pull-out;

• Consultative;

• Collaborative;

• Team teaching;

• Self-contained;

• Inclusion;

• Preventive.


The pull-out service delivery model provides intervention services outside of the classroom environment. In other words, the individual with diverse learning needs is removed (pulled-out) from the classroom for services (Blosser & Neidecker, 2002). Direct services (i.e., tutoring; speech-language; occupational therapy, etc.) are provided on an intermittent schedule determined by the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).


Consultative services are often considered an indirect service delivery model. This type of service delivery model finds the special education teacher or related service provider providing the classroom teacher with information in order to alter or adjust the classroom environment or teaching strategies in order for the exceptional learner to remain in the regular classroom setting...

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