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Article

Larraine M. Edwards

Mary Elizabeth Switzer (1900–1971) was an administrator who became head of the Social and Rehabilitation Service in 1967. She influenced the evolution and expansion of federally funded services to those in need and improved services to people with disabilities.

Article

Leah Igdalsky

Social workers working with individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families require an understanding of the disabilities themselves as well as the larger context of disability in society. Individuals with disabilities face particular risks for poverty and poor healthcare, and it is essential for social workers to understand the complex web of social services available. Furthermore, social workers often work not only with the person with a disability but also with their caregiving families.

Article

Linda Siegel

Dyslexia, or a reading disability, occurs when an individual has great difficulty at the level of word reading and decoding. Comprehension of text, writing, and spelling are also affected. The diagnosis of dyslexia involves the use of reading tests, but the continuum of reading performance means that any cutoff point is arbitrary. The IQ score does not play a role in the diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. The cognitive difficulties of dyslexics include problems with recognizing and manipulating the basic sounds in a language, language memory, and learning the sounds of letters. Dyslexia is a neurological condition with a genetic basis. There are abnormalities in the brains of dyslexic individuals. There are also differences in the electrophysiological and structural characteristics of the brains of dyslexics. Hope for dyslexia involves early detection and intervention and evidence-based instruction.

Article

Scholars, teachers, clinicians, and the general public have puzzled over the nature and consequences of severe reading (decoding) problems for more than a century. With the advances of genetics, neuroscience, and psychology, we know much about the underlying nature of reading disability. However, we still have much to learn, and fierce debate continues about whether there is a subgroup of poor readers who can, or should, be called dyslexic. This issue has become highly contentious, as gaining the label can bring significant benefits in terms of resourcing, various forms of test and classroom accommodation, and more positive and understanding responses from others. Many clinicians argue that special cognitive tests are needed to identify and diagnose those with dyslexia. These may take the form of general tests of IQ, or measures of more specific cognitive or executive functioning. Despite their popularity, the evidence for the utility of such measures is low, and many of the processes examined are often problematic for all poor readers, not merely the subgroup deemed to have dyslexia. A further difficulty concerns intervention. There is no strong scientific support for the notion that intervention programs designed to improve underlying cognitive processes (e.g., memory processes) can successfully improve the reading accuracy of those who struggle to acquire literacy. Similarly, interventions geared to improve visual or motor functioning have not proven successful, despite often vociferous support from adherents. The only approach that has strong scientific support takes the form of an educational program that utilizes systematic, structured phonics teaching as part of a broader literacy curriculum. This finding applies equally to those who have been diagnosed as dyslexic and those poor readers who haven’t. For this reason, it is unclear how a dyslexia diagnosis helps to inform the nature of subsequent intervention. In establishing effective forms of intervention that can cater for any child who struggles with their reading, it would appear most efficacious to utilize what is known as a “response to intervention” approach. This requires early identification of, and intervention with, all those who are making limited progress. Intervention should only utilize those approaches that have strong scientific support. The nature and extent of additional educational support should be determined on the basis of the progress that is made when additional help is given. If insufficient progress has resulted, it may well be necessary to increase and intensify the intervention. Such an approach helps to ensure that all struggling children are helped at an early stage, and no one is missed because of an absence of parental advocacy or a lack of family resource that can cover the cost of diagnostic assessment.

Article

Sandy Magaña and Lauren Bishop

Autism spectrum disorder is a heritable, developmental disability that is characterized by challenges with social communication and the presence of restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior. Autism spectrum disorder affects development and quality of life from very early development through old age. Social workers play a number of different roles in supporting and advocating for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. It is important that social workers understand the etiology, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder, how it manifests throughout the lifespan, and challenges faced by families affected by ASD.

Article

Michael Shevlin, John Kubiak, Mary-Ann O'Donovan, Marie Devitt, Barbara Ringwood, Des Aston, and Conor McGuckin

People with disabilities have been among the most marginalized groups within society, with consequent limitations imposed on their access to many goods within society, including education, employment, and economic independence. Some progress is evident in the establishment of more inclusive learning environments, yet it is also clear that upon leaving compulsory education or further/higher education, young people with disabilities encounter significant barriers to accessing meaningful employment. Facilitating transitions to employment for people with disabilities should be informed by ambition and a belief in the capacity of these individuals to make a meaningful contribution to society and achieve a level of economic independence. The issues that are pertinent to young people who have a special educational need or a disability and an aspiration to transition to further/higher education require attention. Research and applied practice has demonstrated the utility of an innovative educational and work readiness program for people with an intellectual disability. Such work highlights the facilitating factors that may encourage a more ambitious reimagining of what may be possible for individuals who have been marginalized.

Article

Writing is especially challenging for students with disabilities, as 19 out of every 20 of these students experience difficulty learning to write. In order to maximize writing growth, effective instructional practices need to be applied in the general education classroom where many students with special needs are educated. This should minimize special education referrals and maximize the progress of these students as writers. Evidence-based writing practices for the general education classroom include ensuring that students write frequently for varying purposes; creating a pleasant and motivating writing environment; supporting students as they compose; teaching critical skills, processes, and knowledge; and using 21st-century writing tools. It is also important to be sure that practices specifically effective for enhancing the writing growth of students with special needs are applied in both general and special education settings (where some students with disabilities may receive part or all of their writing instruction). This includes methods for preventing writing disabilities, tailoring instruction to meet individual student needs, addressing roadblocks that can impede writing growth, and using specialized writing technology that allows these students to circumvent one or more of their writing challenges.

Article

Sally Friedman and Richard K. Scotch

Persons with disabilities make up a large and significant segment of the American public; however, Americans with disabilities have rarely been considered an important political constituency or received public (or scholarly) attention in terms of their representation among political candidates or office holders. To the extent that people with disabilities have been addressed in American political discourse, they have been associated with the receipt of public benefits and services instead of being thought of as people with the potential to actively participate. Having a physical or mental impairment has typically carried with it a considerable degree of social stigma, and to be disabled is, in the minds of many, to be incapable and incompetent, dependent on others, and even morally questionable. Thus, for much of American history, the perception of an individual as disabled has been inconsistent with the personal qualities that the voting public and political gatekeepers view as desirable for public officials. While there have always been politicians with disabilities in government, many of them have chosen to hide or minimize the visibility and extent of their impairments. However, cultural changes in part provoked by the disability rights movement have meant that many impairments have become less discrediting, and that people with disabilities are more likely to be seen as having the potential to be contributing citizens. The number of political candidates and officeholders with disabilities appears to be increasing, and some have chosen to include or even highlight their disabling condition as they present themselves to their constituents.

Article

Ye In (Jane) Hwang, Kitty-Rose Foley, Samuel Arnold, and Julian Trollor

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is typically recognized and diagnosed in childhood. There is no established biological marker for autism; rather, the diagnosis is made based on observation of behavioral traits, including (a) persistent deficits in social interaction and communication, and (b) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, autistic individuals are a highly heterogeneous group and differ widely in the presentation and severity of their symptoms. The established prevalence of ASD is approximately 1% of the population. Information about autism in adulthood is limited; most of the literature examines childhood and adolescence. While the term “later life” has traditionally been associated with those over the age of 65, a dire lack of understanding exists for those on the autism spectrum beyond early adulthood. Individuals remain on the spectrum into later life, though some mild improvements in symptoms are observed over time. Autistic adults experience high levels of physical and mental health comorbidities. Rates of participation in employment and education are also lower than that of the general population. Quality of life is reportedly poorer for autistic adults than for nonautistic peers, though this is not affected by age. More robust studies of the health, well-being, and needs of autistic adults are needed, especially qualitative investigations of adulthood and aging and longitudinal studies of development over the lifespan.

Article

Jasmine P. Brown and Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar

The condition of disability and disabled persons in society has shifted and transformed throughout time and history with the rise of medical interventions, capitalism, and disability advocacy. This article discusses the different theories and models that have dominated the study of disability and further explains the contributions of disability theory on disability identity, as well as the intersection of disability and race. Also, with the rise of the social model ideals, there has been an increase in advocacy and empowerment within the disability community. This article concludes with an overview of advocacy and empowerment interventions for and with individuals with disabilities and recommendations for future research in sociology.

Article

Susan Baglieri and Jessica Bacon

Disability studies (DS) is a transdisciplinary field of scholarly inquiry whose members seek to understand disability and disablement as cultural phenomena. Scholars who adopt disability studies in education (DSE) perspectives aim to understand how disability is conceptually configured in the research and practice that shape learning, education, and schooling. The DSE field strives to discern and theorize medical and social models of disability in order to promote critical examination of the cultural conditions in which educational practices are performed. The commitments and understandings that arise within DSE lead proponents to conceptualize inclusive education reform as a radical project, and call for the development of policy, teaching, and teacher education practices that acknowledge and resist ableism.

Article

The Disability Studies in Education framework offers the best practices for working with, listening to, and addressing the strengths and needs of students with physical disabilities in schools. Areas covered include reducing barriers to physical and social access, utilizing expertise of students with disabilities to inform practice, reducing stigma while creating disability culture in the classroom, and assisting students with physical disabilities in building self-advocacy skills.

Article

Karen A. Erickson and David A. Koppenhaver

Qualitative research methods, in many forms, have been used to deepen understandings in the field of severe disabilities for decades. Using methods such as individual case studies, grounded theory, phenomenology, content analysis, life history, and ethnography, qualitative research has served to explain bounded systems, generate theory, study the lived experiences of individuals, investigate historical and contemporary texts and contexts, share first-person narratives, and investigate cultural and social systems that involve students with severe disabilities. Indicators of quality in qualitative methods and means of establishing credibility have been explicated and are widely applied in the field. To varying degrees, qualitative methods have allowed researchers to represent the voices of students with severe disabilities and engage them actively in the research process, which is important given that a mantra among persons with severe disabilities and their advocates is nothing about us without us. Regardless of the methods, accurately representing the voices of students with severe disabilities and including them as active participants in research is not always easy to accomplish given the nature of their cognitive and communication profiles. Many students with severe disabilities do not communicate symbolically through speech, sign language, or graphic symbols. Others have limited means of communication and are dependent on familiar communication partners to co-construct meaning with them. Some approaches to qualitative research, such as post-critical ethnography, provide a potential path toward representing the voice of a broader range of students with severe disabilities because these methods lead researchers to interrogate assumptions in the field while examining their own positions, perceptions, and beliefs relative to the subject of the investigation. While these methods offer opportunity with respect to their ability to fairly represent and involve students with severe disabilities, they challenge previously accepted indicators of quality and means of establishing credibility in qualitative research. As qualitative research methods are applied in understanding students with severe disabilities in the future, these challenges will have to be addressed.

Article

Lisa S. Patchner and Kevin L. DeWeaver

The multiplicity of disability definitions can be attributed to the heterogeneity of disability, its multifactoral nature, and its effects across the life span. Of particular concern to the social work profession are those persons with neurocognitive disabilities. Neurocognitive disabilities are ones where a problem with the brain or neural pathways causes a condition (or conditions) that impairs learning or mental/physical functioning or both. Some examples are intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and savant syndrome. Neurocognitive disabilities are the most difficult to diagnose often times because of their invisibility. Providing services for people with neurocognitive disabilities is very difficult, and people with these disabilities are among the most vulnerable populations in today's society. This entry discusses neurocognitive disabilities and current and future trends in social work disability practice.

Article

Diana M. DiNitto

This entry defines comorbidity and similar terms used in various fields of practice. It addresses the prevalence of comorbidity, suggests explanations for comorbidity, and discusses integrated treatment for comorbid conditions and the importance of the concept of comorbidity in social work practice.

Article

Designing education for learners with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities (PIMD) is a special challenge for both professionals and researchers. Learners with PIMD experience a combination of significant intellectual and other disabilities, such as motor and sensory impairments. Heterogeneity in terms of combination and severity of disabilities is a common characteristic of this group. In the past, learners in this target group were described as not being able to learn due to the complexity of their disabilities. Recent studies do provide evidence that learners with PIMD are in fact able to learn, however, evidence-based practice for designing education for this group of learners is still scarce. One reason could be the difficulties associated with conducting intervention studies such as randomized controlled trials or controlled clinical trials with this target group. Most studies are designed as single-case studies. Hence, only a small number of studies have investigated topics such as communication, assessment, and teaching curricula to generate knowledge about the education of these learners. The most important conclusion of these studies is that all teaching activities need to be designed according to the strengths and needs of each individual learner with PIMD.

Article

Adrienne Asch and Nancy R. Mudrick

Significant visual impairment affects ~8 million Americans, 1.8 million of whom are blind and must find nonvisual methods of performing life roles. Social workers should not assume that people with visual impairment or blindness are unable to work, have families, or engage in sports or travel, or that vision limitations are necessarily a part of every presenting problem. Key roles for social workers include assisting in access to services and training and advocacy to combat discrimination and exclusion.

Article

Shawn A. Cassiman and Sandy Magaña

This entry provides an overview of the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, including a discussion of who is eligible for benefits, benefit levels, and program administration. The history of the program is provided and the impact of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act on SSI is discussed. Current policy challenges and policy relevance to social work practitioners and educators are considered.

Article

Physical disability is traditionally defined by society's view of atypical function. The medical model offers information on factors contributing to physical disability, including genetics, injury, and disease. The social model of disability, however, defines the societal responses, not the physical differences, as disabling. People with physical disabilities have unique characteristics and experiences that fall into the broad range of human diversity. They belong as full participants in society. Social workers must focus on working in respectful partnerships with people with physical disabilities to change environments and attitudes. This will help build a just society that honors diversity. This entry addresses multiple factors that cause disability, from genetics to environment, as viewed through the medical model. The social model view of “the problem” is offered in comparison. It also introduces the wide diversity of people with physical disability. The entry discusses two major societal responses to physical disability. Environmental modification is one approach. A more recent approach, Universal Access, involves upfront design of environments to meet diverse needs. The final sections explain implications for social workers and lays groundwork for action. Creating access and respectful partnerships are foundations of the work ahead. It is difficult to define physical disability without situating the discussion in the model used to view and deal with human diversity. This discussion is based on the social model of disability, a view of disability that sees the environment as disabling, not the individual condition. Discussion of the medical model is offered as a contrast. (For a more complete discussion of disability models, see Mackelprang's Disability: An Overview in this publication.)

Article

Michelle S. Ballan, Molly Burke Freyer, and Lauren Powledge

Evidence-based interventions for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are explored, and trends and changes in the diagnosis of ASD in the United States are examined. Evidence-based interventions in various settings and modalities are discussed, with detailed descriptions of several effective evidence-based interventions including joint attention training, video modeling, story-based interventions, and activity schedules. The integral role of social workers in the lives of children with ASD in multiple settings, particularly the classroom, is emphasized. Social work must be vigilant to keep pace with the ever-changing field of autism, with its frequent improvements in understanding, diagnosis, and treatment.