Exceptional children are different in some significant way from others of the same age. For these children to develop to their full adult potential, their education must be adapted to those differences.
Although we focus on the needs of exceptional children, we find ourselves describing their environment as well. While the leading actor on the stage captures our attention, we are aware of the importance of the supporting players and the scenery of the play itself. Both the family and the society in which exceptional children live are often the key to their growth and development. And it is in the public schools that we find the full expression of society’s understanding — the knowledge, hopes, and fears that are passed on to the next generation.
Education in any society is a mirror of that society. In that mirror we can see the strengths, the weaknesses, the hopes, the prejudices, and the central values of the culture itself. The great interest in exceptional children shown in public education over the past three decades indicates the strong feeling in our society that all citizens, whatever their special conditions, deserve the opportunity to fully develop their capabilities.
“All men are created equal.” We’ve heard it many times, but it still has important meaning for education in a democratic society. Although the phrase was used by this country’s founders to denote equality before the law, it has also been interpreted to mean equality of opportunity. That concept implies educational opportunity for all children — the right of each child to receive help in learning to the limits of his or her capacity, whether that capacity be small or great. Recent court decisions have confirmed the right of all children — disabled or not — to an appropriate education, and have ordered that public schools take the necessary steps to provide that education. In response, schools are modifying their programs, adapting instruction to children who are exceptional, to those who cannot profit substantially from regular programs.