History Of Especial Education

History Of Especial Education

The high incidence disabilities include mild mental disabilities, behavioral disorders and learning disabilities. The current special education aims to identify of students suffering from disability. Special education filed stated long time ago. The modern day special education focuses on the need to provide students with disabilities adequate education system.  Starting from the time of Itard as seen in his landmark work, “Wild boy of Avyrone” to the modern Legislations that address special education to people with disabilities indicates an intensive evolution that is documented. This paper will present the growth of the field of special education and look at some important defining aspects in this filed.

Early Developments in Special Education

The definition of mental retardation has had its historical development. It has gone through changes over time in its significance and nature. Currently, the problems and issues on mental retardation are similar to the past.  The historical categories of the   study of mental retardation are as follows; the antiquity (before1700); the Disillusionment and emergence (1700-1800); orientation based on facilities (1890-1960); orientation based on services (1960-1985), and orientation based on support (1985- now).  The antiquity was mainly characterized by difference in treatment based on people’s culture. These treatments involved both demonic and angelic activities. In the antiquity, the concept of mild intellectual; disability was not acknowledged.  By nature, the services were custodial. The later changes that took place were mainly triggered by the Renaissance thinking.  The early disillusionment period emerged in 1700 and lasted until 1890. This was the period when humanistic philosophy was employed.  Such philosophies involved   the ideas that the fortunate were responsible in caring for the unfortunate. Another guiding principle was that all human beings have their individual rights.  The early pioneers of special education were Dix, Wilbur, Howe, Seguin, Guggenbuhl and Itard (Disability Museum Website 2012).

In the early 1700, interest in the study of feral children began to grow and since then many people continued to be fascinated by this filed up to the current modern era. Many recorded cases have mainly been about young children who have been isolated or long up in a room for long periods of time.  The disabled children are denied from their rights to associate with others, deprived of human care, and sensory deprivation.  In the long term, such children get negatively impacted, and this impact cannot be rectified because of abuse and neglect they experienced.  However, this does not mean that dysfunctional parenting alone is the only contributing aspect to feral children cases.

Jean Marc Itard (1774-1838) contribution in special education:

Jean Marc Itard (1774-1838) believed that the skills deficiencies in Victor were mainly caused   by environmental limitations. This made him start training Itard on the skills that he thought were lacking within a systematic program. This systematic program aim is that Victor would learn some of the skills that he was not exposed to at an early age, and he will manage to express himself through language.Victor, an autistic boy, was found roaming alone in the Lacune woods, in Southern France. This was towards the end of the 18th century. The boy was said to have been abandoned at the age of 6 by his father, and many villagers around this province had seen him roaming in the woods.   The young boy knew any human contact, and this meant that he did not know how to use words to communicate and was not interested in people. He only knew how to communicate with animals. Victor’s story led to the contribution of various investigations concerning the nature of intelligence, learning, and culture (Itard, 1962).

Theorists, such as, Locke and Rousseau questioned on the true qualities that make a person be innately human and essentially a person. A young doctor by then called Jean-Marc Itard.  He became fully interested in studying the child, who had memory of human encounters, language, and with no any interest other than his own survival to the norms of learning and social behavior.  Itard studies Victor for five years in his therapy session. He made an effort to rehabilitate the boy by teaching him human norms and values and to proof his theory of nature versus nurture. During this time, the debate on the nature vs. nurture was a hot debate across the globe juts as it is today.  In the effort to humanize Victor, much was achieved but some aspects such as language were never achieved.  Victor was not able to use any word in a conversation, and this meant that he could not be questioned about his past. The work of Itard inspired Maria Montessori and he laid the foundation for theories and techniques currently used in special education.

The work of Itard contributed to the need of the provision of special education and services to individuals with disabilities. The special education can be provided in public school systems or any other learning institution to individuals aged 2 to 21 years.  The main goal of special education is to ensure that students suffering from disabilities have the right environment that supports the intellectual, social and emotional development.  Individuals suffering from disabilities qualify to join special education. These are the blind, deaf, those with mental disabilities.  The various forms of mental disabilities include autism, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and oxygen dependence.  Others are those with learning disabilities such as behavioral disorders, conduct disorders, attention deficit hyperactive disorders, and dyslexia (Strichart, S & Mangrum, 2010).

He aimed to provide a more congenial social life to the boy by making it similar to the wild life that the boy was used to.  Itard also aimed to excite the boy’s nervous system through energetic and varied stimuli and give his mind with raw ideas of his impression. The psychologist further aimed at extending the boy’s range of ideas through expanding his relations with the life around him.  However, these objectives were not achieved, because after the five years under the systematic instruction, Victor could still not express himself using language. Despite this limitation, his work contributed to his accolades and status to be known as the father of systematic instruction for individuals suffering from cognitive limitations. Itard’s successors such as Seguin managed to develop programs and methodologies that are in the present day.

Some of the notable people in the United States include Wilbur, Howe and Dix, who came up with the provision of personalized care and support to people with special needs.  This specialized care in Itard’s devotion in providing his patient with educative procedures, which in the long run, hoped would improve on the child’s wild behaviors.  Edouard Seguin was Itard’s student who later in 1848 immigrated to the United States.  Seguin has become famous for his contribution in providing education to young people who are mentally retarded.  This is contrary to the common belief that students who are mentally retarded cannot be taught.  This means that the ideas of the earlier thinkers of special education were truly revolutionary, and some of their idea has formed the foundation of the modern day special education. Such ideas include the need to provide individualized instruction based on child characteristics.  This means that students with special need do not have to undergo academic systems with prescribed content or teaching techniques in their education systems.

Summary of contributions

The early special educators were the first in contributing to a suitable learning environment   for a child with a disability. Such an environment is that which allows the child to learn naturally. They also emphasized on the issue of awakening and stimulating a child senses so as to help him be responsive and aware of an educational stimuli (Stichter, Conroy, & Kauffman, 2008). The early special education educators managed to sequence educational tasks in a careful way by starting from the simple and familiar ones to the more complicated and unknown.  They also came up with immediate reward as a reinforcement of a desirable behavior. These educators also believed that children with special needs have to be taught so as to achieve their greatest potential.  Lastly, the educators believed that a student should be taught functional skills to help them become productive and self sufficient on their daily lives.


Itard, J. (1962) the wild boy of Aveyron developments of the young savage. New York, Prentice-Hall Inc.

Disability Museum Website (2012) Disability History


On November 15, 2012

Stichter, J., Conroy, A, & Kauffman, J (2008) an introduction to students with high-incidence disabilities. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Strichart, S & Mangrum, C (2010) Study skills for learning disabled and struggling students Grades 6-12. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill.

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