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From Integration to Inclusion: A History of Special Education in the 20th Century
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In the 1980s, many students who had previously been labeled mildly mentally retarded were propelled into the classification criteria of learning disabilities. School personnel often bent the rules and applied the label of learning disabilities rather than the more stigmatizing mental retardation (MacMillan & Siperstein, 2001). This flexibility meant that students in the learning disabilities category now had a range of IQs that extended lower (see e.g., Gottlieb, Alter, Gottlieb, & Wishner, 1994; Gresham, MacMillan, & Bocian, 1996). At the same time, pupils identified as mildly intellectually disabled tended to have greater disabilities than those of previous years; included were children with Down syndrome and those previously classified as trainable mentally retarded (Robinson, Palton, Polloway, & Sargent, 1989).

Although the term mental retardation remains important in clinical definitions, many educators and advocacy groups strongly discourage its use. For years, the AAMR has engaged in much soul searching about the term. It knows that risks accrue to the traditional designations, and yet they remain simply because there does not seem to be a better alternative. As one forward step in 1992, the AAMR introduced a new set of qualifiers that focus on needs and supports. Within the needs classification, the stress is on an individual’s future potential rather than intellectual limitations; the focus changes from the effect of an individual’s disability to the needs of “people who have a life and need support” (Butterworth, 2002, p. 85).

Speech Correction Classes

Although the data is somewhat muddied, contemporary reports noted that New York City began a program for children with defective speech in 1908. The first formal school programs for speech disorders began in 1910 when 10 speech correction teachers were hired in both the Chicago and Detroit systems (Paden, 1970). The first statutes in the United States addressing special services for speech defects were enacted by Wisconsin in 1913. In 1914, Dr. Smiley Blanton established the first university clinic for speech problems at the University of Wisconsin (Irwin, 1955).

By 1925, there were programs throughout the United States for children with speech defects, lisping, stammering, and stuttering. Remediation efforts were focused on treating stuttering, lisping, infantile speech, and foreign accent as well as children who were tongue-tied or had clefts and other physical disabilities. Speech improvement work addressed the physiological and mechanical problems associated with speech pathology as well as the psychological and behavioral problems that teachers believed accompanied speech disorders. “A speech defect should be handled as a symptom of some underlying emotional difficulty,” observed one worker. “To correct the defect the whole personality of the child must be studied and readjusted” (Zerler, 1938, p. 85). She went on to say that “Thumb sucking, masturbation, biting of nails, tics, irregular habits of living are all studied and suggestions offered for readjustment” (Zerler, 1938, p. 87).

In this period, the terms alexia, dyslexia, or word blindness were used to distinguish a special type of speech difficulty or aphasia. The earliest organized methods for teaching affected learners began sometime between 1900 and 1920. In the schools, “dyslexias” were “called to the attention of the speech worker with increasing frequency. Children who are slow in learning to read, learning to spell, and learning to talk, present a special educational problem for the teacher of remedial reading” (Hawk, 1934, p. 44). Children were usually taught to master the technique of reading through the alphabetic method, letter by letter, syllable by syllable, and sound unit by sound unit. “The modern rapid, fl ash-card system is too difficult for them. They must also employ kinesthetic and muscular impressions of the words, through tracing and writing frequently, to strengthen the weak auditory and visual images” (Hawk, 1934, p. 44).

By 1944, speech programs were “no longer considered frills or fads,” but were “a basic part of the education scheme” (Morris, Ainsworth, & Pauls, 1944, p. 213). The first teachers were called speech improvement teachers or speech correctionalists. After World War II, the preferred title was speech therapist. Speech therapy, per se, was not considered a regular part of special education programs until the 1950s, and practitioners evolved as professionals separate from special education teachers.

Health Disorders

Educational services for children with chronic illnesses were developed to address specific diseases such as polio and tuberculosis. Programs, referred to as open-air or open-windows schools or classes, typically followed a medical model. They were generally offered in special schools or centers, although some were located within public schools. Programs are reported from Boston (1908), Buffalo, Chicago, and New York (1910), and Michigan (1911). Open-air schools were for “children of lowered vitality, undernourished, or with incipient tuberculosis tendencies” (Stullken, 1935–36, p. 74). Within the classes, children were provided a school program that included fresh air—a temperature of not more than 68 degrees. They were “supplied with Eskimo suits to wear in the lowered room temperature, and with comfortable cots and wool blankets for rest periods” (Stullken, 1935–36). The classes avoided too much homework and the strain of too long classes; they provided rest periods, extra nourishment, and other necessities for health building.

Children With Physical Disabilities

Crippled referred to individuals with mobility impairments and included many of those first labeled as birth injured; later, brain-injured children. Birth injured was recognized as a medical classification in the first decades of the 19th century when researchers suggested a relationship between intracranial hemorrhage at birth and the later development of cerebral spastic paralysis (Miller, 1940). From the outset, the lives of crippled children were dominated by the medical profession (Enns, 1981; Stone, 1984). Credit for the first real study of the condition is given to Dr. William Little (1810–1894), an English orthopedist, who published On the Influence of Abnormal Parturition, Difficult Labours, Premature birth and Asphyxia Neonatorum on the Mental and Physical Condition of the Child, Especially in Relation to Deformities in 1862. Little described children who walked with a scissors gait, grimaced, drooled, and were mentally retarded (Miller, 1940). After Little’s work, no further distinguished efforts were forthcoming on brain-injured children until about 1930 when pioneering research on intellectual and motor difficulties emerged along with a series of studies on the social maturity of brain-injured children (Block, 1954). The term cerebral palsied came into use at this time.


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