Not much has changed in special needs education in past 20 years. In fact, 58 percent of students with special needs do not even graduate high school. With the number of children with learning disabilities increasing every year, there is an increased population of young adults who are uneducated, unable to work, and ultimately, unable to provide for themselves.
In its current form, the system is undoubtedly broken. However, if you ask Dr. JoQueta Handy, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, there is a solution to this outdated education regimen. It starts with looking at the needs of the student.
Changing the system
Dr. Handy has spent 12 years analyzing the education of children, starting as a collaboration with teachers and parents to devise ways to more effectively teach children with learning disabilities. Recently, Handy decided to visit a classroom to get an insider's perspective.
“I was visiting an ASD class and noticed there was a movie playing in the background and all the children were glued to iPads," says Handy. “I asked 'What's the lesson plan?' and the teacher said that this was the lesson plan. I was so shocked and taken aback."
Even when there is a lesson plan in place, they often are ill-fitting to children with special needs and just end in disinterest and frustration.
“We say there is a standard in special education, but there isn't really," says Handy. “Standardized testing just makes the child become a grade, a statistic, a number, and they are forgotten about."
Looking at the needs of the child
Through her work in the field, Handy had a revelation. This lack of education is not the student's fault, or even the teacher's. It is a fault in the system. It's the apathetic view that there simply is no solution to the problem.
“It's not because students with special needs aren't capable. It's because they aren't given the opportunity."
“Special needs curriculum is built around a concept of minimal gains, not trying to bridge the gap and realizing these children's potential."
Working directly in the classroom inspired Handy to look at special needs education with a different perspective. Instead of hoping a student adheres to a set of expectations, why not focus on the learner's strengths and abilities? It was through this concept that Handy came to develop her specialized education regimen which she calls the Children's Opportunity for Brilliance (COB).
Special needs education in a new light
The COB model looks to combat traditional special needs education—instead of focusing on what the child can't do, this method builds off of the child's strengths to help realize their potential. The COB model is based around the need of the child and brings in a community effort—from teachers, parents, and doctors—in order to identify effective methods on a case-by-case basis.
Handy's teaching method goes beyond special needs education, however. Handy says the method can be used for any curriculum and at any level of learning. This is because it is simply a way of understanding how each person can use their own abilities to learn in the most effective way. Internal research conducted to evaluate the COB model saw a 70 percent improvement in students after just 16 hours of one-on-one instruction.
In congruence with the COB model, Handy also partnered with several institutions to augment her program's effectiveness. Through her understanding as an Integrative Medicine doctor, she utilizes various supplements to promote healthy nutrition in her students. She has also partnered with various biotech companies to help her process. These technologies include BrainTap, a mind development tool that induces relaxation and reduces stress on the body, and Quantum Reflex Integration, which helps reduce excessive reflex tendencies.
Through her studies, Handy has had the opportunity to work with some wonderful students, whom she refers to as her “master teachers." She says they have guided her to create this program that she hopes will spark a change in special needs education.
“I have learned so much through these students, namely that we need to reject disease-based thinking," says Handy. “It's about looking at the student's strengths and looking past labels that we always seem to put on a person."
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