Special Education

Linking Neuroscience to Special Education

By Nirvi Shah — October 12, 2011 1 min read
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Developments in neuroscience could provide new insights into teaching students with disabilities, but more needs to be done to connect scientists studying the brain and educators, says a new policy analysis.

Published by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the analysis highlights several examples of the promise of brain research in the lives of students with disabilities.

In the area of dyslexia, for example, brain imaging could help distinguish among students with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, cognitive impairments, and limited language exposure. Teachers with this information could determine which types of students would respond best to which therapies.

In addition, the analysis says, so-called “biomarkers,” visible through brain imaging, can show cognitive or learning impairments even before a child exhibits them through behavior. Research on biomarkers is now underway on specific language impairment, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and learning disabilities, including dyslexia and dyscalculia.

The NASDSE analysis cautions, however, that while early identification can benefit children, premature diagnoses could lead to discrimination or stigma.

Another risk of linking neuroscience and education or special education, the paper notes, is that people often hear the term “neuroscientific” and assume that means “evidence-based.” But there is limited evidence that many “brain-based” software programs are effective in improving outcomes for students with or without disabilities.

When the research does catch up to the classroom, however, the results could be dramatic, says Monica Adler-Werner, director of the Model Asperger Program at Ivymount School in Rockville, Md.

“My guess is that as much as what we’re doing now is cutting edge, we’ll look back in five years and see it as very primitive,” she says. “We’re at the beginning of a revolution in human understanding.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 13, 2011 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook

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