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The Intersection of Bilingual Education and Special Education

The rate of non-English-speaking children in the U.S. is growing (12.08 million spoke another language other than English at home in 2019). The rate of children with special needs also continues to increase (about 17% of children have some form of developmental disability in the U.S.). Therefore, special education experts agree schools desperately need specialty programs and bilingual special education services.

Bilingual special education provides basic special education services to kids who speak more than one language and have developmental disabilities. The belief that students with special needs could not learn a second language or receive bilingual education is changing and proving the opposite. In fact, according to the National Dual Language Forum, “school-aged children with disabilities from both majority and minoritized groups in dual language programs can acquire the majority language of the community of schooling and in academic domains to the same level as comparable children with disabilities in monolingual programs.” Today, teachers who work at the intersection of bilingual education and special education are in high demand.

Bilingual educators who want to further their careers and hope to teach diverse and exceptional students should check out the Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) online Master of Science (M.S.) in Bilingual Education with a Specialization in Special Education program.

This is a relatively new and constantly evolving field, as educators who work with special education and bilingual students must be highly skilled in teaching methods and language acquisition. Experts today agree exceptional students can succeed in learning another language and understanding multicultural identities, but more educators are needed to teach them.

What Does Bilingual Special Education Entail?

Bilingual special education researchers recently published an article detailing the past and future of bilingual special education. After more than four decades of analysis, experts recognize the particular needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students with special needs. Students with disabilities who are learning a second language must be in programs designed especially for them.

Bilingual special education is a framework based on a few fundamentals:

  • Cultural resources available in students’ communities and family cultures
  • Socio-cultural connections, or ways that learning connects to students’ communities and cultures
  • Effective learning principles, including teaching complex thinking through conversational instruction and connecting school to real-life student experiences

This collaborative structure is quickly becoming a cornerstone of bilingual special education, where the teacher specialists work as consultants to general education teachers to best help students.

Assessing Bilingual Special Ed Students

A new report detailing trends among English Language (EL) learners claims teachers need training in language issues to support a wide range of linguistically and culturally conscious ways of teaching.

Exceptional EL students face severe disproportionality.

Researchers from the National Center for Disabilities write, “disparities can be due in part to the current lack of sophisticated assessments and an inability of education professionals to effectively assess ELs for special education.” According to the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, EL students may appear to have disabilities based on assessment results, even if they don’t have disabilities, because of the surprising and sometimes startling effect of their English language abilities.

Appraising the Learning Environment

Open communication between students, teachers and caregivers is crucial. Identifying disabilities among EL learners is a comprehensive process. The National Dual Language Forum notes that welcoming bilingual learners with disabilities into dual language programs improves the success and accomplishments of bilingual learners with disabilities.

The characteristics of intervention associated with bilingual learners with disabilities enrolled in dual language programs start with an engaging classroom. Learning should include ongoing involvement of parents, individualized, systematic, explicit instruction and meaningful and fun opportunities to practice personalized, identified learning skills.

The extensive research is a useful starting point for educators to use tools and checklists to appraise the learning environments for bilingual learners with disabilities.

The Many Approaches to Teaching ELL Special Ed Students

There is a shortage of bilingual teachers who hold credentials in special education. Delivering appropriate education to pupils who fall into both categories is difficult. A student’s cultural and language background may cause academic challenges that are hard to distinguish from real learning disabilities.

A recent blog post on about becoming a bilingual special education teacher says the role of a bilingual special education educator looks different in school districts nationwide. For example, a student with special needs might be in a general education classroom with special education support. Some schools pull students out of class or place specialists in classrooms to provide support. However, in most cases, students are educated alongside their mainstream peers.

Educators looking to gain skills in both spaces would benefit from TAMIU’s online M.S. in Bilingual Education with a Specialization in Special Education program. The program provides skills to analyze research in bilingual education, utilize evidence-based practices in bi-literate/bicultural teaching and support students with disabilities.

Learn more about TAMIU’s online M.S. in Bilingual Education with a Specialization in Special Education program.

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