Drama as a strategy for the social development of special needs students

Mack Smith, California State University, Monterey Bay

Capstone Project (B.A.) Institute for Liberal Studies


Today, Special Education or Special Needs Programs continue to be a highly debated subject. Parents, teachers, school officials, and policy-makers grapple with the issue of Special Needs Programs? What qualifies an individual as a special needs student? What types of curriculum will be taught in a Special Needs Program? For the purpose of this research paper, Special Needs Programs are programs implemented for the education of students with psychological or physical disorders. Kathleen Stassen Berger, author of The Developing Person Through Childhood, describes children with special needs as "Children for whom learning new skills and developing friendships are hampered by psychological or physical disorders" (351). Because the number and types of psychological and physical disabilities are so great, teachers are confronted with the task of assessing each child's ability and then designing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) based on the level of the child. Children with an IEP are again assessed in their ability to participate in mainstream or exclusionary programs. Though qualified doctors and teachers perform assessment, parents usually have the final say in the educational choice of their child. "Mainstreaming is the placement of a special needs student in regular classes with non-disabled peers" (Barry E. McNamara, ED.D, Sec. 2). This form of inclusion is usually prevalent in grades 7-12. Exclusionary programs are the placement of special needs students with like disabilities in one classroom. According to a web page sponsored by the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and Blind, exclusion programs are in schools where there is a specialization such as deafness ("Hawaii"). Because special needs classrooms vary in their methods of instruction, teachers limit their curriculum to such basics as mathematics, reading, and writing. Teachers also are limited in what they can teach because their classroom often contains students with varying disabilities. These limitations in instruction force teachers to follow IEP's, which in turn segregates students from each other. This segregation restricts students from interaction and provides no medium for social development. It is important for special needs students to develop social skills in order to communicate effectively within society. Without the necessary instruction and guidance in social building techniques, the special needs student disability is compounded. I believe if teachers can incorporate group activities such as drama, student integration will occur and social development will enhance. Therefore, in this paper, I propose a solution to the problem of individualized segregation within the special needs classroom. My approach is valuable because it incorporates alternative teaching methods, which educators can use in the instruction of special needs students. I propose to solve the problem of individualized segregation by creating lesson plans that incorporate self-expression, play, and cooperative learning. These lessons can be used to introduce drama as a strategy to develop social development.