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Why Cognitive Skills Should Be a Focus within Special Education

Within the community, there is a great deal of misunderstanding as to just what a special ed student is and what it takes to qualify for a special ed program within our school systems. While learning disabilities enter into the broad scope of what special education seeks to address, cognitive disabilities are also a part of the focus and as such, our schools could be doing more to work on teaching skills associated with cognition. In order to appreciate the importance of cognitive skills, let’s take a brief look at the students who would most likely be lacking in this area.

Do You Get the IDEA?

Within special education there are groups of children who are severely emotionally disturbed. These kids are referred to as being IDEA students, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - hence the acronym, IDEA. This is a focus within special education that seeks to work with students who are challenged due to emotional/psychiatric issues as opposed to having learning disabilities in the traditional sense. IDEA students generally can learn but are handicapped by severe emotional issues which impair their cognition. It isn’t that they can’t learn but rather how to use what they’ve learned. In short, their cognition suffers.

IDEA from a Financial Perspective in the Everyday World

According to the New York State Office of Mental Health, there are cognitive skills that emotionally disturbed children are unable to assimilate. Due to the critical nature of their impairment, their ability to live independently within the community will be impaired to the same extent. Of primary concern are their problem solving skills but within that broad scope comes the inability to:

* Manage a home
* Negotiate travel/transportation
* Do routine shopping
* Take care of finances
* Maintain good health and psychiatric wellbeing.

And, it is here that our school administrators should place a great deal of their time and attention. After all, upon ‘graduation’ from school or any program whatsoever, we are sending our children out into a world that is difficult enough to navigate, but more so with problems in cognition – the assimilation of knowledge we’ve acquired and now need to use in perspective. Leading schools are raising up a new generation of administrators who understand the importance of teaching IDEA students cognitive skills. One such program can be found at

Transition Services?

And, here you have the operative word that was being referred to above – transition services. As school administrators and specialists with a Master’s Degree in special education, we need to ensure that our students make a smooth transition into the community. Oddly, many IDEA students can be straight A students in the classroom with a 4.0 GPA but unable to live and function within society. It is this transition that must be a very strong focus of any special ed program, especially in middle and high school grades.

Too many times in the past we have sent our special ed students out into the world without the skills necessary to live well within society. They have no perception of what it means to budget their money in order to make it through the month or manage their bank account without being continually overdrawn. There are just too many areas in everyday life where cognition plays a major role and these students need to be better prepared for life in an unfortunately cruel real world.

To Medicate or Not?

One of the major controversies school administrators and educators with a Master’s Degree in Special Education will encounter daily is whether or not these children should be medicated. Of course, the most basic answer is always to look at each child on an individual basis. In some cases, medicating the severely emotionally disturbed child will definitely help with cognition and other times medication doesn’t help and may seem to hinder the process.

Because of so very many factors involved when educating children with special needs, educators and administrators alike should be well informed on issues involving IDEA and how best to help these children, soon to be adults, transition into a world where they will be called upon to function based on cognition. How well can a student put together the information he or she has learned within a set of parameters that define living within a normal range? It is here that the system often breaks down and where the focus of research and development should be placed going forward. From academics to cognition is the path to success.

This article is sponsored content.