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Study: Trust in Professionals Low Among Handicapped Pupils' Parents

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Anaheim, Calif.--Parents have lost some confidence in professionals who work with learning-disabled children in the 10 years since the passage of the federal law protecting the handicapped, according to a study to be completed this summer.

Abraham Ariel, a professor of special education at California State University at Los Angeles, discussed the preliminary findings at the annual meeting of the Council for Exceptional Children held here late last month.

Some 76 percent of the parents surveyed in 1975 expressed confidence in special-education professionals, he found, compared with 68 percent in 1976, and 56 percent in 1985.

Longitudinal Study

A total of 387 California families with learning-disabled children in kindergarten through 12th grade participated in the study in three different phases: in 1973-75, 65 families were interviewed; in 1976, 142 families were interviewed; and in 1985, 180 families were interviewed, Mr. Ariel said.

"In most cases, parents said professionals--mainly pediatricians and psychologists--must3learn more about learning disabilities," Mr. Ariel said.

Special-education teachers are held in somewhat higher regard by parents, the study found. Just over 50 percent of the parents interviewed for the study said special-education teachers were second only to parents in "helping a child come to grips with his handicap"; far fewer parents ranked pediatricians and psychologists as that helpful.

Parents' waning confidence in professionals, Mr. Ariel said, "reflects to a certain extent the state of affairs in the field of learning disability. There is very little agreement about the nature of what learning disability is."

In fact, Mr. Ariel said, the diagnosis of learning disabilities has not improved substantially over the past decade.

"In some areas, it is almost astonishing to find the similarities in diagnosis since 1975," he said. "There is almost the same degree of confusion in 1985 as there was in 1975."

Mr. Ariel said one parent interviewed for the study noted that "until the educators understand the basis for learning disabilities, the whole process seems to be hit or miss. Labels are incorrect because information is inadequate."

Only about 54 percent of the par-ents surveyed said they were "familiar with recent legislation relating to handicapped services," such as P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. However, some 70 percent of the parents said they were receiving adequate services under federal law.

Mr. Ariel said this may mean that although some parents are not aware of specific federal laws, they are satisified that their children are receiving an adequate education and assume that federal statutes are, in part, responsible.

Integrated vs. Segregated

The survey also found that in 1975, 59 percent of the parents preferred self-contained special classes, as opposed to "mainstreaming"; 58 percent expressed such a preference in 1976, and 45 percent did so in 1985.

Mr. Ariel attributed this shift to the increased availability of resource rooms, where handicapped children may receive specialized help for part of the day while attending regular classes part time.

Short-Term Survey

The results of a second survey that were presented at the convention also suggest that parents become more comfortable with mainstreaming over time.

The study, conducted in 1984 by Mary Banburry and Freddie W. Litton, professors of special education at the University of New Orleans, weighed the academic, social, and emotional benefits of both self-contained classrooms and mainstreaming. The researchers surveyed 173 New Orleans-area parents with a mean income of $30,000.

The study found that parents who had more experience with mainstreaming were more likely than those with less experience to believe it would benefit their children.

The longer a learning-disabled student spent in a segregated setting, the more parents believed that an integrated environment would impede their child's academic progress, the study found.

On the other hand, the longer a learning-disabled student spent in a regular classroom, the more parents acknowledged the social and emotional benefits of a mainstreamed setting.

The study also found a relationship between parents' perception of the severity of their child's handicap and their attitude toward mainstreaming.

Parents who viewed their child's problems as severe were more aware of the negative effects of mainstreaming than were parents who considered their child's problems to be moderate or mild.

"There seems to be a move in the country to do away with the self-contained classrooms," said Ms. Banburry. "But parents are saying that some of our kids may need more time in special education. The resource room may not be the best solution in every case."

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